This blog is temporarily suspending service, sorry folks, but wait for the re-launch, you’re gonna love it!….
There are just a few days of January left and I have to admit, I’ll be glad to see the back of it. It is always such an intense time with all kinds of ridiculous promises to wipe the slate clean and be more virtuous. Whatever we were up to the previous year, it must have been wrong/sinful and we must repent. Women especially are scrutinised on all fronts and undergo a barrage of ‘advice’ from so-called women’s magazines – Horrible things that are without exception, be the theme, style, parenting or homes and gardens designed to torment women, to fill us with shiny examples of how to be better selves and to crush our spirits when we’re not living up to their standards, (standards which are only achievable if you happen not to be a real human woman, but a Stepford resident with a limitless disposable income). January is the magazine mecca of unwanted guidance in everything from your paperwork, to the colour of your cushions to your sex life.
Simultaneously, we are told to “ditch your usual resolutions to be healthy” and to “make realistic goals, like to lose 5 pounds per month.”
Sounds like a trap to me. But since I live in a metric society, luckily I have no idea what they’re talking about.
But fellow women, January demanded a lot of us and as a parting shot before we can all stop boring the pants off each other trying to be perfect, I have put together a list of the classic prototype resolutions that we are told to make, resolutions that we can have a good sneer at as we turn our backs on all this nonsense for another year! Ha!
Don’t promise to go to the gym every day, instead keep your fitness regime “fresh and exciting”
Don’t expect the new career to happen straight away, tell yourself instead “I’m going to get a job that’s on the right trajectory for what I want to ultimately do.” (if you know what your ‘trajectory’ is – otherwise forget it, you’re 38 and still don’t know – there’s no helping you!)
Develop a positive attitude, make specific commitments to being a better person.
Don’t say ‘don’t’, try saying “please be kind to your sister” instead.
Teach your kids by example. Volunteer five hours a week at a local soup kitchen.
Have more fun! Don’t forget to do the things you love. Schedule some time to treat yourself! (in other words – do normal stuff on your own once in a while, like have a bath, then make sure to feel super-grateful to everyone for allowing you such an indulgence.)
Go domestic. Keep on top of the laundry basket and chores. A clean home environment will help your children thrive.
Round up your best friends and organise a fun weekend away or a day at the spa for no other reason than ‘just because’!
Cook from scratch 3 times a week. You will cut down on processed saturated fats, salt and sugar without trying. You might just develop a fun new hobby while you’re at it! (and think of the fun you’ll have when your kids refuse to take a single bite of the roast vegetable polenta it’s just taken 2 hours to prepare!)
Make resolutions that you enjoy, so that you can stick to them easily. Make time for your own hobbies. (Hobbies?! Sorry no idea what you’re talking about)
Stop saying “wait a minute”. Make a point of listening to your children every day. If you listen to them now, they will talk to you when it’s something important.
Reduce your stress levels with a regular yoga class (or try not having a three-year old hanging off your leg screaming – also very zen!)
Learn to stop being a mummy all the time. Make sure there’s still some of ‘you’ left to share with your partner. (What am I? A bag of licorice allsorts?)
Never neglect your skin! Cleanse, tone and moisterise everyday to defy the wrinkles and keep your skin energised!
Turn off your smart phones. Reduce your screen time. When you’re at home, make yourself available to your kids.
Go green. Instead of greeting cards, teach your children how to design e-cards or digital slide shows as thank you letters and birthdays cards.
Vary your diet. Resolve to try a new recipe every week.
Eat together as a family.
Don’t stress about mealtimes. Be relaxed about food.
Smile more! If you catch yourself frowning or stressed, try to let it go and smile. (Otherwise known as ‘fake it’. Should I pop a quick valium while I’m at it, in case I offend anyone with my gross ‘unwomanly’ ways?)
Read with the kids everyday. Reduce TV time. (unless of course this is the only way you can keep them quiet while you’re pursuing new hobbies or experimenting with varied healthy non-processed recipes in the kitchen, or unless you’ve taken off for a day at the spa, ‘just because’!)
Get organised! Make index cards for each member of the family and stick them to the fridge! (While they’re all watching telly I suppose)
Make your dreams a reality.
Finish that book!
Stop thinking and start doing!
And above all relax. Let go of your expectations. Learn to love and accept yourself.
And that’s it! Easy – I certainly had no problem following all this ‘helpful’ advice – how about you?
Some of you eager beaver readers may have noticed I have been quiet of late. In between stuffing turkeys and generally having a life of your own you must have wondered what I was up to. Right? Well, there have been hard times and winter dips. I have been unable or maybe reluctant to try to pluck a needle of wit out of the haystack of crushing doubt, the cowering in dark corners and downright drudge of bum detail. Or it could be laziness. Whatever it is, in my reticence to spill the real dirt of everyday life you have missed out on could be stories about throwing up in bed and late-night sewing projects that have brought me to the brink of hysterics. You have also missed out on the 4am massive diarriah clean-up operation. Bummer.
But it is the new year, a time for new beginnings. I will resolve just to write stuff, no matter what, be it drivel, or nuggets of delight you won’t be spared, life is not all that funny, often it’s shit and if there’s no hilarity to be found you’ll be getting the bum detail.
23 December 2013. We are heading to England for the Christmas knees up. We are in fact extremely organised. Bags are packed the night before. We wake the kids, strap them in the car and throw croissants in their mouths before they have a chance to whinge. We set off for the 4 hour drive to Dunkirk. This is the first ferry we’ve ever been so early for. No panic.
“Well done” I say to P when we reach the port. “You’ve done half the drive already”
Things only start to go wrong once onboard. The soft play area is closed due to bad weather. It’s absolutely the only thing to do on this boat for small kids and I’ve been promising it for the last 4 hours. Ah well. Obviously the captain must have decided that the softest, most padded area of the ship was far too dangerous for little heads to bump against in the event of rough waters.
We head to the cafe instead and buy lunch, mostly chips with mayonniase.
And indeed as we set off the sea does seem to be getting rocky. We wander around a bit, kill time staring out to sea. Then I smell something absolutely foul.
S has pooed, and it’s mega. I take his clothes off in the bathroom and discover that runny poo has exploded out of his nappy and all down his legs. It takes an entire pack of wipes but I’ve cleaned him and every surface in the bathroom that he’s touched. It’s getting trickier howevever since he’s clamped to my leg to stop himself from falling when the boat lurches from side to side and some of the poo has flicked up onto my jumper. Just as I stretch to the hand-basin, I begin to feel really seasick. The smell of shit and the memory of mayonnaise is not helping. I grab S, attempt to steady myself above the sink and dunk his legs in the soap and water. He clings to my neck.
“Whoooaa” he says
When we get out of the bathroom P looks worse than I feel. His face has a kind of pained expression like he’s concentrating very hard on not throwing up.
The cafe staff are handing out paper sick bags.
No one is really moving a lot anymore. We just lie there across the chairs.
“What time is it?”
“About another 15 minutes til we’re there I think” says P
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. Regretfully you will notice that the wind outside is very strong. Unfortunately as a safety precaution we will need to be towed into dock. We are now in a queue with two other ferries ahead of us. There will be a significant delay. We are looking at a wait of about 2 hours. We apologise for the inconvenience, but hope you will understand that weather conditions are severe and this is a safety measure.”
A gasp goes up amoungst the passengers.
“I don’t know if I can handle another 2 hours of this”
Time goes by slowly. S is bored. He’s the only one who doesn’t seem to be effected by sea-sickness. He wants to explore.
“I want to go over there” he points
He pulls me up. He has bare little legs. His trousers are covered in wet poo and I’ve stuffed them in a plastic bag. I grab him by the hand and we lurch along past a lot of people holding sick bags and immobile, sprawled with their heads down on the table. There is salt scattered all over the carpet. I assume it’s been sprinkled on the piles of vomit but I don’t really want to get close enough to investigate further.
We keep doing circuits, past the shop, bottles of Bailey’s slide off the shelves and smash, the lights and buttons on the fruit machines, the TV, costa coffee, more people lying in the aisle, the Christmas tree fallen on it’s side, someone being sick and we’re back to the start. So we go on for a few hours.
A is lying with a sick bag over her mouth. She looks up at me.
“Mummy, I’m tired, I feel sick and I’m bored”
“I know exactly how you feel”
Another announcement. – Now the storm has worsened, we are closer to the front of the queue but will have to wait another couple of hours for the wind to die down before we can dock.
“This is in the interests of passenger safety”
We pick up our stuff and kind of shuffle, crawl, stagger to the other end of the boat where they are showing a kids film on TV. You can’t hear a word of it and it switches to black and white every time there’s an announcement on the tannoy, but we have to kill time somehow. It’s either this or stare out the window at blackness.
It’s starting to get late in the evening and even the staff look pissed off, no polite smiles. Kids are either crying, running around like caged animals or throwing up and parents are commiserating with each other wordlessly. An ackowledging nod and a concerned frown. Why is nothing happening?
“Ladies and gentlemen, for the next 20 minutes the self service restaurant will be serving complimentary tea and coffee.”
I buy ice-lollys for the kids, basically to fill a bit of time, but maybe it’ll even help with the nausea. I have to pay €1.95 for a mini milk. S takes one lick and decides he doesn’t like it.
“Ladies and gentlemen” you can hear a shift down in his tone of voice “I’m afraid it’s bad news. We have been attempting to dock, but the sea is very rough and it has become too dangerous. The decision has been made to close the port at Dover. We will return to the water off the coast of France and wait until the storm passes. The weather report has shown this to be around 3 o’clock tonight and we expect the harbour to open again at 6am. We are very sorry for the inconvience, but our priority has to be to passenger safety”
Now people start freaking out.
“My dog is in the car!”
“Why can’t we just go back to Dunkirk?”
“People just want to get off this boat now, please is there nowhere else we can dock?”
“Why can’t we just go back to Dunkirk?”
The reception staff are losing their cool.
I am escorted down to the car to retrieve pjamas for the kids. I ask at the reception for a blanket.
“I can only give you one per family. We are not equiped for these kind of things”
We line up for our free meal. P is still a dull shade of green and none of us has much of an appetite. Except S, who is taking advantage of my lapse in normal parenting rules to feast on a dinner of white bread and jam.
“I’m hungry again” he chirps
I stagger back to the cafe to grab another handful of bread rolls.
Eventually we decide it’s time to look for a place to bed down.
“When are we there?” Asks A “Are we still going to England?”
We lay all our coats on the floor in the upstairs cafe. There are not so many people about up there so at least it’s quiet but there are bright lights. We try to make the pillow end under a table and we all put our hats on over our eyes.
“This is our own little house” says A smiling at her brother.
I’m impressed with her positive attitude. She seems to have found the only morsel of fun in the misery. I don’t think she learnt this from me. I am well and truly stuck in the misery at this point.
“Close your eyes!” I bark at S who has refused to put his hat on over his eyes.
“This is ridiculous! How are we supposed to get these two to sleep with such bright lights?”
I march off to look for a way to turn the lights off. How can it be so complicated to find a god-forsaken bloody light switch on a ferry?
Eventually, I ask someone on reception who offers,
“Okay, well the best I can do is to dim the lights like this….”
“That’s not going to be enough, the lights are still really bright!”
“Sorry but some people might want to read”
“Have you ever tried getting a three year old to sleep on a boat, in a storm, under a table with a light shining directly in his eyes??”
The kids are actually fine and end up sleeping through the night. I twist about next to them all night, adjusting the hat over their eyes so they can still breath and thinking about every doom scenario from every boat/ship/water/storm based disaster movie.
Once in a while I nod off for about 10 minutes and wake..,Shit we’re still here….Are the kids both alright? Where are the life boats? Okay, there’s nothing I can do…Try to sleep…..What if we still can’t land tomorrow morning? What if we have to spend Christmas on this ferry? Try to sleep….another 10 minutes….Shit we’re still here…Are the kids still alright? Where are the life boats? Okay…..and so it goes on…..
When we all wake up in the morning, we’re exactly where we were when we went to bed. Chugging back and forth across the same strip of sea. We can see the lights of the French coastline. We are offered slimey looking fried eggs and sausages, which we don’t touch. S eats yet more white bread with jam.
Finally at about 9am, after 19 hours circling the channel, we dock in Dover.
“We are very sorry for the inconvenience, which we know this must have been. This was in the interests of passenger safety.”
“Are we in England now?” asks A
We sit in the car waiting to drive down the ramp onto the dock. We can see the heavy rain outside.
“Yes, we made it……I love you all” I reply
It’s Christmas eve. Now just the 4 hour drive to Bristol. We’re still in time for Christmas.
We have another family visiting from the UK, with their children who are 9 and 12. I have been nervous about entertaining such big children, but so far so good. Everyone has been pitching in and it seems my 2 wee ones are revelling in new attention. I have had to give in to skate boards in the house and the floor completely covered in play-mobile but I’m surprisingly unfazed, instead of my usual tendency to get wound up I am embracing the chaos and I think I’m getting away with it! None of my neurotic jitters are showing through. I am a picture of cool headed easiness. The hostess with the mostess!
“You’ve got a lovely house” our guests say reassuringly on the first evening.
“So far, we’d give you 5 stars on trip advisor!”
Our guests are bakers, as in they bake bread, as a profession I mean so we have decided that we have to visit a windmill. We’re in Holland afterall! And these people undoubtedly have an interest in flour – a working mill – what could be better – what could go wrong?
The 2 dads go into town to hire bikes for the 2 big kids. They measure them up and come back with 2 reasonably well fitting bikes. We all go out on the street and have a practice. Everything seems to be going well, apart from my 2 year old who is disappointed not to have his own bike. He pleads and persuades, but I am not willing to let him meander on behind us on his trike.
“I’m sorry, it’s just a bit too slow, you need to go in my bike with me”
“I’ll go fast!” he says over and over. His bottom lip is starting to wobble.
A sits neatly in the front of the bike waiting for her brother. I bundle him in past a snail that hangs to the plastic rain cover.
“Ahh ahh” he complains.
“It’s OK, lets not panic” I say removing the snail.
It has taken us a couple of hours to get to this point but finally everyone from the age of 2 to 42 seems to be ready. We set off, P is doing a great job at the front of the party, keeping everyone in check with the oncoming traffic, making sure they stay on the right. I am coming up at the back with my heavy bakfiets and the 2 kids. S has cheered up and is giggling a bit manicly in the front of the bike with his sister. They lurch from side to side trying to grab at various leaves and twigs – this is highly amusing it seems.
I’m going to keep my cool I think as I sweat it out and struggle to steady the bakfiets.
“Isn’t it lovely here” says Mrs Baker “that you can just hop on your bike and go everywhere I mean.”
After a good half hour we see the sails of the windmill turning ahead of us and as we approach we cycle past typical Dutch houses with their criss-cross wooden shutters. We park up alongside a line of horse chestnut and oak trees and wheel the bikes across scattered autumn leaves. So far, so good, the destination is living up to the promise of a scenic Dutch day trip.
“Look at that! It’s thatched!” says Mrs. Baker pointing at the windmill.
We step up through the tiny wooden doorway. At the back of the narrow entrance there’s a steep ladder leading to the first floor. There’s no signposts to tell you who is or isn’t allowed up the stairs in fact there’s not a lot in the way of health and safety – everyone just files up the ladder – me carrying S on one hip and grabbing the handrail in the other hand. Two men in white boiler suits are lowering sacks of flour on a rope through a trapdoor down to the ground. I get the feeling this is not for our benefit, the visitors look on but the two men working the rope are not smiling for the camera, in fact they are emphatically ignoring us. The rope goes up and down with more and more sacks. Mr. Baker snaps pictures on his iPhone of all kinds of weights and cogs turning round. There’s a balcony with a precariously inadequate wooden railing – we step out for a perfect close up of the wind sails wafting in front of our faces.
After eating our packed lunch on the grass and loading up with a few bags of flour we head back to the bikes.
“Ok – you guys could head off for more adventures. I’ll cycle S back home for his nap”
This requires a bike rearranging plan.
“So Mr. Baker, if you go on the racer and then P you take the bakfiets and then Mrs. Baker, if we swap then I can take the bike with the child seat”
Everyone swaps around.
“Oh but this tyre seems a bit flat” says Mrs Baker
“Oh yeah, you’re right, what shall we do?”
“You can go on that one” suggests P looking at me “and then we all cycle home together and pump it up. It’s not totally down.”
I remove S from the back of my bike and put him back in the bakfiets.
We get on our bikes in the new formation.
I hear a sort of flap-flap noise and look at P on the bakfiets.
“Wait, that tyre is totally flat as well!” I say “There’s no way you can cycle that”.
We all stop.
P goes back into the windmill to see if he can borrow a bicycle repair kit. He comes back with a big box.
The kids run around looking for conkers under the trees.
“So if we get these fixed are we on plan B or C?” asks Mrs Baker
“I dunno. I think it’s still B” says P “I think we should head back together”
“Honestly, this never normally happens” I say, but it doesn’t sound all that convincing. I think my shell is starting to crack a little.
“I hope it’s not going to effect our rating on trip-advisor?”
Bikes patched as best we can, we gather up the kids and try again, but clank I hear the chain as my peddle goes around. I’m freewheeling. Shit the chain is off I realise.
“Stop everyone, my chain is loose.”
P looks at me “This can’t be happening”
The bike has a protective cover over the chain so that, in theory it can’t come loose. That means, though that you also can’t fix it without a screwdriver if it does.
“Right this is ridiculous!” My voice has lost the care-free tone. I start barking instructions.
“I am going to lock this bike up right here and go and get the bus. You lot carry on, and don’t forget to put that boy in bed when you get there. I’ll see you at home.”
They’ve gone and I’m marching down the road. On my way to the bus stop I walk down a shopping street and discover that there’s a local bicycle shop.
I poke my head inside.
“Is there someone available to help me with my bike chain?” I ask
“Yeah, sure, just wheel it in to the workshop round the back.”
I run back to the bike realising on the way that I’d walked a fair bit further than I thought. It seems to be taking ages to walk with the bike so I try to freewheel. I step and push as if it were a scooter, but this does my thighs in so I stop and have to walk again.
In the workshop, the repair-man hangs the bike and unscrews the chain cover. He fiddles and tightens. 20 minutes later, I hand him €5 and the bike is fixed.
I don’t have my phone with me because I left it in the bakfiets, so I cycle as fast as I can.
It’s quite a long way back. When I finally get home I wheel the bike into the front garden and look through the window.
“Look” I say, gesturing at the bike. I keep pointing and mouthing at them through the window but
no one sees me. I open the front door and go into the living room. Everyone is looking at pictures on their phones. The kids are rolling back and forth on skateboards.
“Hi” says P
Everyone continues to just sit there, drinking tea.
“Hey, weren’t any of you worried?” I say “I took ages didn’t I? I got the bike fixed….see it’s there!”
I am in the bath. I have a headache and I’m hungry. Really hungry, but I’m having a bath to distract me from thinking about food, which so far hasn’t worked out that well. I am dreaming of a croissant that I’m planning on treating myself to in the morning. Earlier today I saw croissants on offer for a euro at the train station so I’ve been planning tomorrows breakfast ever since. This is because I am fasting. P and I have joined the hype. The 5-2’ers. The dieting sensation of the moment. We eat normally for 5 days a week and fast for 2. I know it’s a fad and I’m surprised at myself for being sucked in. Everywhere you turn there seems to be some celebrity going on about how great they feel, how they’ve lost blah blah and they’re all so happy and they’re skin is shiny blah blah, everyone is at it apparently even Beyonce and the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall. It’s no fun, but with an endorsement from Beyonce who wouldn’t give it a try?
Today I have eaten an apple, 2 rice cakes, 2 carrots, and a piece of baked salmon with some slices of courgette. I know exactly what I’ve eaten because I can have no more than 500 calories on one of the ‘fast’ days and I have to count them exactly. P, because of the rules of this 5-2 fast can have 600 calories. Not because he’s done anything to deserve it mind, just through the pure luck of being a man! I’m starting to wonder if it’s all part of a big patriarchal plot to protect male privilege. Why should dieting be any different from the rest of sodding society I suppose?
I get out of the bath and see him smearing goat’s cheese on a wafer thin cracker.
“I can’t believe you can do that!” I say
“It’s not fair, 100 calories is loads, and you’re only small, you probably don’t even weigh hardly anything, how can you get a whole 20% more food than me?”
“I know” he says wolfing down his second cracker
“When are you going to write your blog post about fasting?”
“I don’t know” I say
“I don’t really have a lot to say about it, anyway I’ll just look like some kind of faddy weirdo if I start showing off about my new celebrity diet. It might be better to keep quiet..”
“It’s not really that entertaining is it? It’s just moany, um…yeah, I’m miserable and I’m feeling hungry….”
“Well there was that time you asked me how many calories there are in an ibuprofen. That was quite funny….but it’not enough to go on.”
“Yeah, well you know that bloke at work who was teasing me with a snickers bar the other day? He was asking. He reckons it will be the funniest blog post yet!”
“You know when he put that snickers bar on my table on the first day I was fasting?”
“Yeah of course I remember. It really pissed you off.”
“He opened it and left it lying there right in front of me and then he walked off laughing!”
“You’re right, it was wicked but you can tell him I don’t normally do requests. He has to come up with something funny next time if he wants me to write about it.”
I can’t sit there anymore watching the evening cracker eating ceremony and talking about chocolate bars so I decide to go and brush my teeth. I pack my bag for the morning, arrange the kids clothes.
One step closer to the morning, one step closer to my croissant.
I grab Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall’s recipe book “Veg Everyday” on my way upstairs. I start flicking through the pages quickly. It’s a bit like torture but I want to write a list for tomorrow’s shop. I’ve barely got round to making any of these things and I’ve had the book since Christmas. Wow the spicy carrot and chickpea pittas look amazing. And healthy.
I wake up relieved it’s not one of the ‘fast’ days. I run for the train right past the ‘kiosk’ without stopping. Shit I’m so late I don’t even have time stop for my croissant after all. I look in my bag and find another apple.
Nevermind, I can delay my feast until later.
On my way home that afternoon I’m at the train station again. I go into ‘kiosk’ and towards the croissants but something else catches my eye. Suddenly I have to have it. I haven’t eaten a snickers bar in ages, maybe more than 10 years but now it’s the only thing I want. I’m having it, even the prospect of Hugh’s chickpeas won’t deter me.
My daughter’s juffie (teacher) is coming over to visit. We haven’t done anything unusual to warrant a home visit. Or at least I assume we haven’t – growing up in an English inner city, a home visit would be something to ring alarm bells, maybe we’d have been flagged up onto the social-work radar. Maybe they’d be checking we didn’t have 25 flea-ridden dogs sleeping in the children’s beds or weird voodoo dolls hanging from the ceiling.
No, in my daughter’s school it is standard issue. The juffie pays a visit to each child in the final year of kleuter (infant) school. A has been looking forward to it for weeks. Her cheeriness though hasn’t stopped me from a near fatal panic attack and a nail-biting few hours trying to tidy up the house and get rid of the smell of mould that suddenly seems to have permeated every open plughole, because let’s face it – she’s coming for a cup of coffee and a chat – but underneath – she’s coming to check me out! There’s no two ways about it.
After I deliver A to school, I walk back home holding S by the hand trying to hurry him past the slide, so he won’t insist on playing.
“Just going to do a little wipe round and polish!” I joke with another mum outside the gate.
“Oh yes” she says “you’ve got the teacher visit today”
“ha ha” I’m smiling like it’s just another day. ..like I’m not phased at all….la la la…
Then I get to my front door. The first thing I notice is the dog shit, which someone has so kindly allowed their dog to deposit on the pavement outside our house during the night. This happens very frequently and so far we haven’t caught the shady little gremlin who obviously must hobble out of their gremlin-lair and snigger at us while their mutt shits outside our house in the dead of night.
Not what I need today. I remove the shit into a nappy bag and throw it away. Then I decide I must dead head and water the pot-plants. After I’ve pulled back a load of sodden rotting leaves I realise our bikes look shambolic, so I line them up along the window a bit more neatly.
We go inside. I am greeted by rice crispies on the floor and a smell of mould.
That’s it. I’m going to have to let S watch some TV for the rest of the morning, so DVD in. S doesn’t seem to mind, “yeah telly” he says and punches the air in victory. He plonks onto the sofa with his bunny in his mouth.
I clean up the breakfast carnage, hoover up the rice crispies and start ridding the toilet of the stench by using a mixture of vinegar, bleach and jasmin room spray, but it’s no good I can still detect l’eau de mould.
I poke my head back into the living room, S is still glued to the TV so I’m safe to go upstairs for a minute.
I run up and manically start chucking things about, snotty tissues in the bin, rancid socks in the laundry basket…in the end I cut my losses and grab everything I can see and head into my bedroom. I have to push my way in past the 2 bikes leaning against my wardrobe to get to my bed. I pile it all up and shut the door behind me.
“Mummy!” S is calling from downstairs.
The DVD must be finished. He’s been watching TV for about an hour and a half now. Shall I stick another DVD in? No this is really lousy. I’m sure the juffie wouldn’t be too impressed with my parenting today.
“Ok” I say “lets put some pictures up”
I open the cupboard and retrieve a folder of A’s drawings that we were given at the end of last term. I’ve barely looked through it. We have an alcove in the living room that’s covered in the kid’s artwork. It looks a mess. I pull down withered looking frayed old pictures and start replacing them with newer ones. OK, that looks a lot better. There are also portraits she made of all of us which I’ve been meaning to put up for ages.
I have actually bought some clipframes so now I’m just going to do it. It’ll be easy. I line them up along the hallway…shit…
“Quick, wellies on” I say to S
We have to run out for some nails.
We’re back and I measure out the nails along the wall. My measuring system consists of judging using the length of my forearm – elbow to wrist so they probably won’t be straight, but I decide, it’ll have to do, the wall’s not straight either. I can’t be bothered to go up to the attic and look through the whole toolbox, so I ask S to get me a hammer. We rummage through his toys and find 2 very small wooden toy hammers. I bang in the nails with one of the hammers and then lift up S so he can pretend to finish the job for me.
“Well done, you’re very good at hammering!”
I hang the pictures but one of them looks lower than the others so I take it back down to see if I can bend the nail up a bit. The frame slips through my fingers and glass shatters all over the floor.
“Oh god, nooooo. Stay there, don’t move, there’s glass.”
S is only wearing socks. I remove him to a safe distance, sweep and then hoover for good measure. Sod it, I’m going to just hang that picture without the glass cover.
By the time I pick A up from school I’m shattered too. She waves goodbye to the juffie excitedly.
“See you soon!”
Half an hour later, juffie knocks on the door. A opens it and as they walk into the house she points to the portraits in the hallway. Juffie smiles,
“Wow, that’s lovely” she says.
“Do you want to show juffie all your things in your play corner?” I say directing her over to the alcove with all the updated artwork.
A complies. She points at a few things and chats. She seems so excited to have juffie there, she’s squirming around.
Juffie sits on the sofa and I go into the kitchen to make the coffee. I can hear A nattering away incessantly.
“Here are the films that I watch” she says opening the cupboard. She proceeds to describe the entire plot of Madeline, her latest favourite film.
“Yes” I interrupt from the kitchen “I do let her watch TV, mostly to practice her English”
Hello again, I must apologise to all my many readers for my absence (I do have a couple of followers – honest I do – even if one of them is my mum!) I have been on an internet free zone holiday. Even so. I’ve been back a few weeks now so what’s my excuse? Maybe a blogging block, a lack of inspiration? Yep, that’s it sort of. But it’s more general, it’s a passive dullness, the return to real life that follows holidays, where you start to wonder what’s the point to all this? Can’t I just jack it all in and move to a tumble-down shack with a few chickens? You have to get up at 6.30 again to go to work. You come back home to a mountain of laundry, a car full of mini-cheddar wrappers and squashed jam sandwiches and you think, shit…I ought to put some of those holiday pictures on facebook, to prove we had all that fun, and oh god, the blog!… I better pick something funny to write about. Quick! Will it be the cross-dressing Olympics or the boat-trip or that smelly dog in the pub? Too much pressure man, I’m burying my head under the pillow thinking up names for my chickens…
Okay *head peeps up above duvet* I’ll do it then. The boat-trip (I know, dear readers you were hoping for the cross-dressing Olympics but that’ll have to be another story)
We’re on holiday in Scotland, we’re heading out north to the islands. We pass a friend’s house on our way, who gives us some leftover crabbing buckets from their own holiday a few years ago,
“Just float the net out into the water with a bit of bacon for bait,”
They also have tips about the best fish and chip van and a warning about the over-priced boat trips.
“Everyone goes on these whale watching trips and comes back after four hours with a photo of some kind of sea bird in the distance….”
We’re with my two sisters and my mum, staying in a cottage in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. Much to the excitement of A, Tobermory is the real life setting of children’s TV show Ballermory. She has been singing the theme tune non-stop since we got here. Full marks to her for dogged positivity through the drizzle…Yes, it’s Scotland, it rains, but as soon as it stops and you get to see it for a minute it’s beautiful.
We’re doing those holiday things. We’ve been to the visitor’s centre and watched a film about salmon fishing, we’ve been to the beach with our crab buckets. Being a vegetarian I didn’t have a lot of bacon to hand so I tried cheese – not a success – and we’ve seen the castle and the stone circle. We’ve eaten the local fish and chips from the van on the harbour front….
Now I’m trying to be organised. I’m hectically reading all the leaflets. I have my friend’s advice about futile wildlife watching boat-trips in my head. This is confusing me. One leaflet has a picture of puffins. One looks like a more professional print job and says that it’s for everyone from grannies to toddlers. Another leaflet has a simple drawing of some rock formations. Whale-watching trips have no actual guarantee of seeing whales, plus they seem to last 4 hours and cost 60 quid per person, so I’m leaning towards the ‘grannies to toddlers’ option.
My mum has the Lonely Planet in her hand,
“Hey here is one with a sailing boat, that sounds a bit more adventurous.”
“Ok, shall I try to book it?” I ask “They have scheduled or non-scheduled bookings…I don’t really know, which are we?”
“Oh it’s from the other side of the island. That’ll take ages to drive down there.”
“Maybe we should just get this one.” I say waving the professional looking flyer “It’s probably a safer bet and they have loads of sailings.”
“I like this one” says P. “I want to see whales”.
“So what are we doing?” Asks my sister walking into the room.
“Oh I just don’t know what to do!” I reply
“Hey why are you getting so stressed out?”
“Well, I… it’s hard to know which one is best, and it’s expensive, what if I book it and it turns out to be crap?”
“Stop worrying about it.” She cuts in “You always think you have to be responsible for everyone.”
We book the ‘grannies to toddlers’ for the next afternoon.
When we wake up it’s a beautiful sunny day. But as they say in Scotland, “if you don’t like the weather just wait half an hour”, by the afternoon the sky is grey and the daily drizzle is imminent. We walk down to the harbour and the kids get kitted with life-jackets. They’re excited and they look cute. We all pull up the hoods of our anoraks and clamber aboard.
The skipper introduces himself. He seems young and so does the woman who’s our wildlife expert. I wonder how much experience they have? The engine starts up and our guide pulls on her woolly hat and starts pointing and saying stuff. Only problem is, she has a very timid, quiet voice and considering the rain and the fact that she’s speaking over the sound of the engine we don’t hear a lot. Still she has a waterproof book full of pictures of wildlife we’re theoretically looking out for – admittedly mostly sea birds, and the chance of a porpoise. We all grab a pair of binoculars and start hunting the water.
The skipper shouts,
“Actually most people want a nice clear day, but we’re lucky with the weather, you can see the water better in the rain!”
The hood on my mum’s anorak billows up in the wind making her look like she has a giant balloon head. That gives us all a good laugh. We keep wiping the raindrops from the binoculars and scanning the water. P takes a picture of us all with our binoculars.
“I can’t see anything” says A
The boat stops and we’re supplied with cups of tea. There are digestive biscuits on a plate. S has his eye on them. Dwarfed by his oversized life-jacket he stumbles very stiffly across the deck to grab a biscuit. He pokes his chin out from under the jacket, he has no neck, he sticks his arm out in front and just manages to wrap around the big puff of jacket to reach his mouth. He keeps eating until all the biscuits are gone.
On the journey back we are taken to a ridge of rocks on the look-out for a seal colony. We see a lot of gannet’s and shags on the way. Yes, I now know the names of at least two sea birds.
As we approach slowly I’m nervous. I’m thinking.. oh no, there looks like there’s nothing there. The trips nearly over. This is our last chance….And there suddenly there’s one seal, just visible on top of the grey rock. She seems to be eyeballing us too.
“Can you see what that is, there?” I say to A
“A seal, a seal” says A hopping about in excitement.
The seal turns her head as the boat passes by and then flops into the water.
The boat chugs on and we stop to haul in a crab-basket. A gets to stroke a crab and a dwarf crayfish. S is offered the chance too, but doesn’t look half as enthusiastic as he did when the digestives appeared.
We clamber off the boat, smile and thank our captain and her skipper.
“I’m sure that was a mechanical seal” whispers my sister as we walk away.
At the risk of shocking any delicate or prudish regular readers of this blog, or just anyone who is ‘normal’ and not a stinking hairy hippie like me, let me warn you – I am going to write about pubic hair – I know, how repulsive! And it is something to be terrified of I have just discovered. So please, don’t go any further, don’t freak yourself out with the reality of those short curlies, stop reading now…
I am with a friend and we are about to embark on a well deserved day off from the kids. This has been a long time coming, that’s why it’s so deserved. I actually received a homemade voucher from P for Christmas for a day at the spa. It’s taken me 7 months to actually use it and now I’m here. I book the day price, with lunch. It appears that having your feet tickled and chewed on by a shoal of fish is part of the deal. My friend is a little concerned about the fish, from an animal welfare point of view, but it’s a freebie, we can’t refuse! And quite frankly a day off from childcare, no shit to clean up, no wailing, no one shouting ‘mummy’ 100,000 times is a huge break in itself. I’d happily take a bath with a trout if it was part of the deal.
It is a naked spa, as most are in Holland. I’ve brought a towel, but first I’m told I have to pay extra for a dressing gown. This is so that I can sit in the restaurant ‘decently’, apparently.
Now we’re in and we start to look around at the various saunas on offer. Wow, I haven’t been to a sauna in years, not since the old squatty days when I first moved to Amsterdam. This is like another world. It is a vast complex of luxurious tiled opulence. It’s like something out of a movie. There are so many variants of the sauna/steam room to choose from, log burning, Finnish, colour therapy, Himalayan, etc, all around a lavish central swimming pool and there are even more baths and saunas outside.
At first I am so distracted by my decadent surroundings and the mountain of salt scrub in the shower that I don’t notice, but now as I wander from sauna to plunge pool to sauna, I can’t help but see what’s going on around me. I am out of date, I know that, but now I realise how out of date. Everyone seems to be hairless.
“Are we the only ones in here with pubes?” I whisper to my friend
I have a good look around, and confirm, no, I’m not having a paranoia attack. This is real. Women, men, all of them, whether they’re in their 20’s or 60’s. All the same, just at slightly different stages of the bald to stubble ratio. Doesn’t it itch like hell when it starts to grow back?
I have no problem with nakedness in general. I’m a child of the 70’s with those ‘radical’ types for parents. I have been indoctrinated early on. My mother thought nothing of stripping off in front of me and running up mountains with groups of her friends on spiritual quests to celebrate the goddess of the moon. Luckily for me she didn’t go as far as my step-mum, who made the crazy decision to take my brother and sister on holiday to a naturist camp – when they were teenagers!
Nakedness was a pretty every day thing for me, which is why I’m probably better at handling the whole ‘going Dutch’ thing in the sauna. Well I thought I was ok with it, until now, but I’m starting to have a rethink. I am feeling the pressure. The peer pressure. Why the obsession? I’m wondering, peering down at my own slightly overgrown bush. I trim a bit round the edges, but that’s it. My friend and I are most definitely the odd ones out here and as soon as I can between steamings I grab that dressing gown and cover up.
The dutch word for pubic hair is schaamhaar, very closely related to the verb schaam zich which means to be ashamed. Is it just a Dutch thing, or has this trend for the full on wax job gone global without me noticing?
I’m still worrying about it when we eat lunch on the terrace. Luckily we don’t look like freaks anymore, safely wrapped in our luxury dressing gowns. I’m glad I was forced to pay the extra 8 euros now. The woman on the reception was right. I could never have faced the cheese-board without it. How indecent!
“So how was the spa?” asks P when I get home that evening
“No one has any pubes, nowadays” I reply
“Yeah, I know” says P
“What, how do you know?”
“Well, I’ve been told…That’s what people do now.”
So it’s true. The general population has been tricked into living in a make-believe prepubescent world. I’m starting to feel glad that I am so out of touch.
“From now on” I say “I’m going to let it all hang out!”
The 70’s live on! Power to the pubes! We’re adults. Let’s not let a few stray hairs scare us.
Are you with me?
We’re going to the parent conference at school. It seems a bit heavy to call it a conference. My daughter is five years old, how serious do we need to be? It’s just a chat with her teacher. In any case, I love it. I am not an idiot, I know the teachers are banned from telling the truth. I know there is a positive propaganda machine. If a kid is a pain in the ass, they’ll tell us he or she is “energetic and inquisitive”. Whatever, who doesn’t want to be schmoozed? What parent could resist a bit of sweet talk about their source of pride and joy. And at A’s school they are particularly versed. We’re told cute stories of fun and creative wizardry. I come away beaming with pride.
I’m still normal me however, I get home and reach for the fish-fingers as usual. It’s not as if I’m going to turn into some all singing gourmet super mum sensation just from a half hour of being gently buttered up by the teacher. However my parenting has been given just enough positive charge and I’m going to stretch myself just an inch further than normal. I’ll leave the frozen chips where they are and make my own! Yep and organic too!
Potatoes chopped, chunky, skins left on, drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt. There. They come out looking oven-crispy-good.
We sit down to eat. S is two and a half and he’s already learnt the crucial Dutch art of eating chips with mayonnaise. In fact I’m a bit of a convert myself. S has a huge splodge of mayonnaise on his plate. He holds up each piece of fish-finger for me to “blow it”. This continues with every chunk of broccoli etc, until he’s absolutely sure that everything is stone cold as is my entire untouched dinner.
When you’ve just had a baby where’s the greeting card that tells you “Welcome to parenthood – Hope you like cold food”?
Now S is taking his fork and he’s about to scoop a whole dolop of mayonnaise straight in his mouth.
“What are you doing?” I say “you can’t eat mayonnaise on it’s own! Yuck”
“I want chips” he says
“Here they are, right here on your plate!”
“I want different chips”
“No no we’re having these chips. They’re nice. Try them with mayonnaise”
“I want different chips”
“We’re not having different chips”
“I want different chips”
“We’re not having different chips, we’re having these chips”
“I want different chips” now he’s crying
“Just ignore him” offers P.
I look away. A is being the good example over at the other side of the table. She’s eaten all her chips and she’s munching her way through the veg. It’s tempting to give S a good old fashioned talk down in the style of “why can’t you be more like your sister?” But I’ve read enough parenting books to know that this is a big-bad-outlawed-crime of badness destined to give him a huge CHIP on his shoulder.
“They’re yummy” she tries to encourage him
“I want different chips” he growls at her
If he says “I want different chips” one more time I might have to go and stick my head in the oven.
“I’m taking you up to your bed!” I pick him up under my arm
“Just wait there outside the door” says P. “He’ll calm down”
“Are you going to stop shouting?” I ask with my leg bent towards the staircase so he knows I mean business.
We go back to the table.
“I want different chips” he whispers. Well I suppose I did only specify to stop shouting.
“Just eat them or don’t eat them, it doesn’t matter.”
“I want mayonnaise” he hovers with a knife covered in mayonnaise in front of his mouth.
“Look, you don’t eat mayonnaise on it’s own!”
More tears. Eventually we all just stop talking about chips. The kids brush their teeth and are on their way up to bed.
Suddenly S is hungry. He refuses to go upstairs to bed.
He wants to try the pale looking cold chips that are still on his plate. He eats them all.
He wakes up in the night crying. I go in to see what’s wrong and he’s sweaty.
“Do you want to sleep in our bed?”
He cuddles up close and keeps shifting around, agitated, but I tuck him in under the duvet and we all go back to sleep. I’m woken up again by his arm on my head. He’s patting my face. I look at him, but his eyes are closed.
“Mayonnaise” he says in his sleep.
I’m putting the kids to bed. Things are following the usual pattern. We read, I put S down in his cot, then go back into A’s bedroom for a goodnight kiss. She has a cute look on her face. She’s squirming a little, smiling a crooked smile and she’s twiddling the tail of her rabbit.
“Night night, dafty” I say
“Verliefd” she says
That shakes me out of my regular evening zombie-state. She’s 5 and she’s talking about love!
“Verliefd? Who are you verliefd with?”
She tells me about a boy in her class. We’ll call him J.
“And is he also verliefd with you?” I ask
“Yes I think so.”
“How do you know?”
“He tells me.”
“So what’s the difference then?” I ask “Between him and your other friends? How do you know that you’re verliefd?”
“I don’t know” she giggles
Wow it’s starting to look a lot like she is in love.
“Well when I’m older, when I’m grown up I’m going to live with him.”
I can’t argue with that. You like someone, they like you back. You grow up and then you live together. It’s simple. Unfortunately my withered screwed-up adult brain has blown apart the logic of this love formula, but I’m not letting my horrible cynicism spoil it. She’s sublime.
I just give her a squeeze.
Over the next weeks A is cheerfully inventing a happy future.
Now whenever we talk about being grown up, what job she wants to do, where she wants to live it’s always the same.
“But then…when I’m living with J…..”
She seems pretty sure of the facts. And maybe it is simple, who knows?
Even the teacher has mentioned it, “Oh yes, childhood crushes can be so strong..” The two of them play super-girl and super-boy all day at school but so far they have never played together outside of school.
Walking out of the classroom one morning I see J’s mum.
“A says she is verliefd” I whisper
She nods knowingly. “Let’s arrange a playdate.”
Mondays are out – work, then Tuesdays – swimming, then Wednesdays – work again, then Thursdays – grandma. We end up having to wait a week. Should 5 year-olds be so scheduled up to the eyeballs?
The Friday in question comes up. A wakes up, runs into our bedroom. Normally she’d jump up on the bed and we’d have to endure a fantastical imaginary birthday party for her rabbit or we’d get a wriggling foot in the face, but now it’s all about J.
“Is it today? Is J coming to play today?”
I’m never at my best at 6.30 in the morning so there’s no chance I’m going to match her level of eagerness. I’ve got a permanent sleep-deprivation hangover, but on this occasion I’m going to try my damndest not to be an old crab. I squint at her.
“Yes, after school”
We get into the classroom. I’m sitting behind A in the circle and the teacher starts the morning singing. I see J coming in a bit late. He joins the circle and he’s looking all around him. He spots us on the other side of the room,
“Hey, there she is over there!”
I almost choke down a nervous laugh. What is this? Am I going red? They’re the ones pointing at each other across the room but now it’s me that’s getting all embarrassed. I never realised that the heart flutterings of my 5-year-old daughter would put me in the hot seat and reawaken my childish awkwardness.
It’s time for us to say goodbye and something makes me hesitate,
“Don’t think about the playdate too much. You don’t want to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out. Okay?”
“Yes” she says
“Bye, see you after school.”
I go and buy croissants. After school I’m there on time to pick them up. As soon as I walk in I see the two of them sitting next to each other on a bench. A is looking perplexed. J has blood on his lip. He spots me coming over and he’s shaking his head from side to side in a definite “no”.
A runs up to me. She’s upset.
“What is it?” I ask
“I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t want to come.”
“Someone knocked into him and he fell over and hurt his lip.”
“Okay, let’s go and talk to him”
I go and sit on the bench with them.
“Are you alright?” I ask “Is it painful?”
“I don’t want to come to your house” he answers
His dad pops his head round the door of the classroom and J runs to him.
I turn to A, “well never mind, he probably just wants to be with his daddy because he’s hurt himself. We’ll ask him to come another time.”
She’s trying to be okay with it. She walks towards her teacher to go and say goodbye, but she doesn’t make it. She turns back and bursts into tears.
“It’s okay, it’s okay”
“But….I…wanted…..to show him everything…..” she sobs.
I can hear J’s dad trying everything to persuade him.
“Look, she’s really sad now J, are you really not going to go?”
“Just for half and hour, I’ll go shopping and then come back and see how you’re getting on?”
“no” J shakes his head.
I’m struggling a bit not to show my own disappointment. My poor girl.
“Quick, let’s see if someone else can come and play” I suggest
“Okay” she nods through the tears.
And she does. Another girl, her good friend is standing just nearby and really wants to come over. She asks her mum who agrees and it’s suddenly all so straightforward, the two girls are skipping along the pavement singing. Well done, I’m thinking, what a comeback!
The weekend passes and we’re back at school. A seems to have forgiven J for the heartbreak on Friday and they are sitting together. J’s mum says,
“Sounds like it was a bit of mess on Friday”
“Yes, it was” I answer “I guess these things can happen at their age”
I turn to the kids who are listening “Let’s just do it spontaneously” I say
“Yeah” says J’s mum “Next time, just play together when you feel like it”
Then she tilts her head toward me and whispers, “This Friday”
“Yes” I whisper back
When Friday arrives again, I’m not counting on anything and A is relaxed. No build up, we’re being cool. When I get to school to pick her up I go up to J and ask him,
“Do you feel like playing at our house today?”
“No I can’t” he says “I need to take some old iron to the scrap-yard”
“Oh, do you need to do that right now?”
“Yes, I have to. I’m going with daddy.”
J’s dad arrives and explains. He’s going to the scrap-yard, but I won’t take long and then he’ll bring J over to our house. He looks at A.
“Actually, do you want to come with us in the car?” he offers.
She nods, but her smile has vanished and I can see she doesn’t want to go. She may even be about to burst into tears for the second Friday in a row.
“A listen, you don’t have to go to the scrap-yard. It was just a suggestion. You come home with me and J will come over in half an hour.”
These two kids certainly know how to complicate a playdate but now seem finally to have come to an arrangement.
J’s dad brings him over and they run straight into the garden. I serve them both some croissants and slices of orange. They take the food into the little wooden playhouse.
“Bye” they say and shut the door.
Every now and then I pop my head outside. I can hear their conversations which go along these kind of lines:
“Let’s catch some more fish.”
“Throw them in the net!”
“Where’s the bucket, quick, they’re swimming”
“No, help, that’s not right!”
Raptures of hysterical laughter………
And so it goes on for the next two and a half hours.
The start might have been a bit rocky but judging by the non-stop hilarity things are back on track. Obviously laughter is the recipe for a good friendship.
Maybe I’ll crack a few jokes when P gets home later.