Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Fault is not in the Stars

Despair at the horror of half-term last week made me forget my cardinal parenting rule:  never go anywhere in the car with the children if it takes longer than ten minutes half an hour.  And so it was that I found myself packing up the car last week to visit my friend H, mother of the Boy’s separated-at-birth-twin, Jack, in deepest Hampshire. 

The lawyer in me had to cover every eventuality: what if we get stuck there? (pjs and toothbrushes.  JUST IN CASE);  what if the weather is fabulous? (t-shirts.  Shorts.  YOU NEVER KNOW);  what if it snows (Snowboots;  puffa jackets;  thermals.  Standard UK spring-wear);  what if they fall in the mud (spare trousers);  what if they’re sick in the car? (big towel, lots of wipes); what if the boys want to play swords? (Swords); etc. And so it was that we left an hour later than planned, with a MUCH fuller car than planned.  7 minutes later, we were in the Asda carpark, with me muttering under my breath, while I untied the kids and ushered them into the toilet.  Bastarding Asda toilets are located past the toy section, rendering me both poorer (cash) and richer (swearing).  An hour and 40 minutes later, we were ON OUR WAY.

The whining started almost immediately.  “I sick”, announced the Girl.  “No, I’M sick”, countered the Boy.  This ping-pong whinging went on and on, until eventually I could stand it no longer, roaring “IF ANYONE IS SICK HERE IT IS M...”  before being rudely interrupted by the Girl vomiting all over her seat.  So I guess she was a bit sick, after all.  Just as she was belting out a second round of quasi-digested bagel, while I was in the middle of barking instructions at the Boy (“The towel! The TOWEL!!! GIVE HER THE TOWEL!  The TOWEL AT YOUR FEET, put it UNDER HER NECK...”) I realised the thick bitch of a GPS woman was sending me the wrong way.  Two more sicks later I was able to stop, clean up and strip the Girl (fuck it, I forgot spare tops, but nothing nicer than spending the day in your PJs, no matter how old you are), and we were ON OUR WAY yet again.

3 minutes – I am not joking – later, the Boy piped up.  

“I need a wee-wee...”  

“You have GOT to be joking.”

“It’s not a joke, it’s not funny.  It HURTS.”

“You’ll just have to hold it in.”

“I CAN’T!  I’ve been holding it in for HOURS.  It HUUUUUURRRRTS!”

“Here, put this on” – rooting in my passenger-seat handbag, and handing him a nappy.  (A BIG nappy.  I am nothing if not a speedy learner re the importance of an adequately-sized nappy while mobile.)


“Yes, you.”

“Put it on myself?”



“Jeeesu... [deep breath] Just pull down your pants.  [glancing in mirror] TROUSERS FIRST.  Pull down your trousers then your pants.  Then just sit on the nappy and bring it up over your willy.  You KNOW how to do it.”

[glancing in mirror again]


I swear, it was like trying to talk a dog into a nappy. Eventually we both gave up, I pulled into a service station, he jumped out of the car, half naked (much to the amusement of the people eating their sandwiches at a picnic table - yes!  At a service station! Mind you it did have a lovely view of the motorway) and then pissed all over my boots. 

We got there, eventually. 

It was wonderful. It was probably the best day of parenting - the first four hours notwithstanding – I’ve ever had.  The boys fell into each other’s company shrieking with happiness and excitement, as they always do; the Girl followed them everywhere, wide-eyed and giddy with excitement (buoyed along by her crush on Jack).  Hand in hand they took exploring walks around the farm, followed dinosaur foot-prints over fields, rode ponies, mucked out stables – all with a teeny swagger of independence.  Because it transpires that the kids LOVE the countryside.  They were the happiest that day that I’ve ever seen them. 

As we left, the Girl looked up at the properly dark sky, pointed, and asked: “What’s dem?” 

“They’re stars, sweetheart.”

“Why we do not have ‘tars?”

“Because we live in London.”

“I want to live here.”

Me too, darling.  Me too.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Like Breakfast for Chocolate

It’s half-term hell here in the UK.  For non-Europeans, this means that you children stay at home from school (or, as in our case, nursery) for a week, twice during the school year - at the end of October and February – for no discernible reason whatsoever.   It has clearly been devised by someone who really really hates parents.  The weather is inevitably shite – the two worst weeks of the year - and all child- or family-related activities come with a half-term “premium” which is about 600% of the normal price.  And so you wake up every morning with a feeling of pure dread and terror at the hours stretched out before you, then leak – in fact, burn - money as soon as you step outside the front door. 

The trick, obviously, is to postpone stepping outside for as long as possible.  

This isn’t always easy with young kids – mainly because they are awake at the crack of dawn (the Girl is, these days, sticking her middle finger up at Gina Ford and waking at the crack of a dawn which is several time zones ahead of ours;  the Baby has bronchiolitis, and so is more or less awake all night), and also because they then bounce off the walls until you leash them up and bring them out.

Unless... you keep them in their pyjamas for as long as possible and promise them chocolate for brunch breakfast. 


 The banana-split-porridge

Doesn’t it look like dessert?  In fact it’s almost health food, and was inspired by the lovely Crumbs sisters’ Chocolate porridge (if you’re not familiar with Crumbs, go visit them and have your daily oh-shit-they-need-to-eat-what-will-I-cook hell resolved forever.  They’re brilliant.  AND lovely.  Sickening.)

This is what it looks like when it’s stirred up (by Batman herself):

(In fact it’s best when stirred up, because I’ve cheated on the chocolate “sauce”, making it from cocoa powder, which isn’t hugely palatable to kids on its own).  It’s not so much a recipe as an assembly-job (and an inducement to good behaviour – the Boy could literally not believe his deaf little ears when I agreed to his demand for banana split for breakfast.  “Really Mummy?  Really?  Did I hear you right?  Are you making a joke? Can you say it again?” Bless him and his reduced hearing). 
  • Make your porridge (one cup of fine rolled oats,  two cups of cold milk, bring to the boil, reduce heat and leave to simmer for about 5 mins, shaking the pan every now and again)
  • Add chopped bananas, a dollop of natural yoghurt and a squeeze of honey.
  • Spoon some pretend chocolate sauce on top:  one tablespoon of cocoa powder, two of sugar, mix to a paste with a tablespoon of hot milk / water, then add another couple of tablespoons of hot milk. (Actually I added two tablespoons of whipping cream, because I had some to hand).
  • Top with chopped nuts if you have any (I didn't).

Serve, while gleefully acting like you’re breaking every parenting law known to man. Then get them dressed in their thermals and rain gear, go spend £347 on 2 hours in a soft play area, and work out what you’re going to do with the other 6 hours of your parenting day. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Something to Shout About

One day stood out amongst all of the others in the logistical nightmare that was last week.  I had ONE thing to do:  get the boy to a doctor’s appointment.  Having started planning it several days beforehand, I had decided that driving would be the easiest, quickest and less stress-free way to get there.  Every single time I drive in London – even if it’s just to the end of the road – I get hassled.  So it’s probably my own fault that the day unfolded as follows: 
Get self and three children up, dressed and fed.
Get self and two children into car, EARLY.  First time ever.
Tell older one of lovely morning we’re going to have:  peaceful drive through our glorious capital, happy chats, jingling music;  quick drs apt to have ears checked (his);  lunch in “the place with the funny pictures” (Prets);  fun drive home.
Get caught in traffic on ½ mile drive to nursery.  Sit there shouting at idiot removal van, who has , in all his 3-ton wisdom, come the wrong way down a one-way road.
Apologise for (multiple) use of term “FUCKING IDIOT”.  Agree that it is indeed a very strong word.
Race into nursery and dump the Girl, who, on realising that her brother is not staying screams so much I fear she’s going to vomit.
Decide nursery staff much better equipped to deal with her.  And with vomit
Cunningly take backroads to avoid traffic.
Backroads blocked because some helicopter had the temerity to crash in the middle of London the previous week.  In fact every road out of, in to, and through Clapham is blocked. 
“Mummy, why are you banging the steering wheel like that?”
“Mummy that is the strongest word I have ever heard”
“Mummy why are you shouting at me?  I haven’t done anything.”
“Mummy why are we turning around?”
“Mummy is this the way home?”
“Mummy, this is the way home!”
“Mummy are we going home?”
“Mummy, why are we going home?”
Brain melts from all the questions.
Park car directly outside our house.  Look at watch.  It is now 945am.  We set out AN HOUR AND A QUARTER ago from this very spot.  Drs apt is in 15 mins.
Ask Boy firmly: does he need a wee?  Because NOW is the time to tell me.
Definitely not?
We RUN to the Tube, narrowly avoiding slipping on my coughed-up lung on the way.
Of course I don’t have my travel card.
Of course the down escalator – down down down, into the pits of South-Clapham hell – isn’t working.
First bit of luck – the train arrives as soon as we get to the platform.   The train is empty. We are on a roll.
The train pulls out.  “I need a WEE WEE.”
Find one of the baby’s nappies at the bottom of my handbag.  Also – half a banana, and a rubber crocodile.  On balance, decide that teeny tiny nappy probably has best chances of absorbtion.  Get out at the next station and huddle in the corner (“DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING”).  Wrap the nappy around his willy.  Look of absolute bliss passes over his face. I am about to smile when someone taps me on the shoulder. 
Over 2 million people use the Tube every day (most of them on the Northern Line). What are the chances of bumping into someone you know?  Appears that if you are kneeling in a dirty platform corner with a wad of padding around your child’s bum, chances increase substantially.
We chat, and she tries not to notice as I wrap the sodden nappy up and put it in my handbag.
Get to apt.  Only 10 mins late.
Chat to Dr about Boy’s hearing.  Dawns on me that I am, possibly, the worst parent in the world, as now quite obvious that he is as deaf as a plank, and has been for some time.
“These things usually get triggered by an ear infection.  Has he ever had one?”
“Um, yes, once”
“When he was [mutter] nine months old
Tests confirm hearing at 50% normal range.   All that  SHOUTING because he was BLOODY IGNORING ME, when in fact he was actually, disabled.  (Cannot help but wonder, hopefully – will this entitle me to a disabled parking badge? Silver linings etc.)
Bring my deaf* child to lunch in Prets.  Keep forgetting he can’t hear me.   “Choose whatever you want. WHATEVER YOU WANT”.  “EXCEPT THAT.”  “OR THAT.”  “OH FOR F... YOU WON’T LIKE THAT.  YOU WON’T.  I’M TELLING YOU YOU WON’T.”  (Pause to glare at everyone staring at us.)  I have a yummy healthy granola thing. He has a toasted tuna meltie thingy.  Inevitably he gags, spits out the tuna meltie, and wolfs down my granola. 
Leave prets, feeling sick from tuna meltie.  “DO YOU NEED A WEE? ARE YOU SURE?  BECAUSE THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE."
Tube.  Packed.  Doors shut.  “I need a wee wee.”
Same manky tube station as before,  same manky corner, same – ohgodthehorror – nappy.  Alas, a different technique, resulting in piss spraying everywhere.  All over me, him, and the platform.   Only possible upside – if you can call it that - is that we meet no one we know.
 Get home, wet, smelly, stressed beyond human endurance.  Spend the rest of the day SHOUTING.  And not just at the deaf child.
Just as am sitting on the bottom stair holding on to my head to stop  it from BURSTING ALL OVER THE WALLS, the post arrives, delivering the only good thing to happen to me all day. 
The Knackered Mother's Wine Club - 9780230767645 
I had planned on devoting an entire post to it, but you’re all just going to have to believe me when I tell you you HAVE to buy it.  It’s wonderful.  It’s fun and funny and chatty - like a wine guide version of The Best Friend’s’ Guide to Pregnancy (except about something way way more interesting than pregnancy.) Like the blog from which it derived, it’s beautifully written, full of brilliant information, and just a damn fine read.  Who ever thought that a wine guide would benefit from references to Thomas the Tank Engine / Fifty Shades of Grey / the hassles of mid-winter hair removal?? You won’t even realise you’re LEARNING STUFF.  Make yourself the most popular friend ever by sending copies to every knackered mother you know. 

Then settle down with a large glass of wine, to mark the end of the most stressful day in living memory, safe in the knowledge that you’re doing homework. 

Just try not to shout.

(* Not really deaf.  V bad glue ear.  Or “mucalyptus in my head” as the Boy puts it.  Surgery – insertion of grommets - booked for next week, after which all shouting will have to cease. Hmmm.)

Friday, 8 February 2013

A Little Slice of Ireland. (And Portugal.)

You wouldn’t expect the Irish Passport Office in London to be quite a fun place to hang out, but you’d be wrong.  To begin with, you’re guaranteed at least an hour of enforced solitude and relative calm – reason enough to wander in there.  You can browse some magazines, listen in astonishment at just how much Irish people love to talk (we really do)  - and if you’re really really lucky you might stumble upon Paddy Scandahooligan.

Way way way before children I went on a drinking hiking holiday with three girlfriends to Crete.  When we weren’t drinking hiking we were laughing – mainly at all the nudies on the beach (so mature) – and into all of this strode a tall, very blonde, very red-faced Scandinavian man.  At least until he opened his mouth, and out fell pure West Cork.  For some reason we christened him Paddy Scandihooligan and, as these things go, he became our great friend for the two weeks we were there, and was never thought about again.

Until Monday morning – for there he was!*  In the flesh!  Still blonde, still red-faced, still booming incomprehensively in a raw Skib accent.  I texted the girls, who all shrieked with glee, and demanded I go and say hello. I was tempted, but shyness (whooda thought?) got the better of me.  On the (very remote) off chance that he remembered me at all, I thought he might rather remember the blonde care- (and fringe-) free creature I once was. (Also – and more pertinently – once you get past the “Hello!” and “What have you been up to?”  you then have to sit there in awkward silence for the rest of the morning, willing the solitary counter-worker to just getamoveon.) 

So instead I amused myself with the conversation going on behind me between a jolly-faced American man, and his jolly-faced American wife.

“So when you get up there, you’ve gotta say “Slan””


“No.  Sla-an. It means hello.”


“That’s right.  Slan.  It’s Gaelic for hello.  Just say it!  They’ll be so impressed.”

Now I KNOW I should have corrected them – Sl├ín (pronounced, as she had so rightly guessed,  “slawn”) is, in fact, Irish for Goodbye.  But they looked so pleased with themselves that I didn’t want to burst their bubble.  And also – obviously ­-  I wanted to see what would happen. 

Up she skipped.  “Sla-an!” she declared.  No response.   “SLA-AN!” The woman behind the counter grinned painfully, and turned her attention to the paperwork.  Jolly-faced Amercian woman looked deflated and her husband was no doubt thinking – perhaps rightly - Bloody Unfriendly Micks.

Now somewhat bored – an unfamiliar sensation I enjoyed thoroughly - I turned my attention to a discarded supermarket magazine;  the usual advertising tripe, but a recipe tucked amongst it, declared to be “far better than the sum of its parts”. So I bought the un-summed parts and cooked it up for friends on Saturday night, adding olives to give it some extra oomph. We declared it a triumph.  It was jolly, and shiney and - not unlike the Irish Passport office itself – definitely more than the sum of its parts.

(Looking at this in the cold light of blogging day, it looks a bit... regurgitated... IT WASN'T.  Although I did take the pic when I was a bit pissed, so... No, I'm pretty sure it went straight from the pan to the plate.)

Portuguese Cod
For 4 (with leftovers) you need:
  • Two large onions, chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 bay leaves (dried, or pinched from your neighbour’s front garden)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • Couple of handfuls of black olives, de-stoned (I recommend buying the stoned ones and cutting the flesh off the stone;  a bit of a pain, but they taste much better)
  • 300ml white wine
  • 2 tins chopped / plum tomatoes
  • 500g Cod Fillets (or other firm white fish.  In which case change the name of the dish)
  • Couple of handfuls of parlsey, chopped

In a deep pan, fry the chopped onions over a medium heat for about 10 mins.  Stir from time to time, then add the garlic, bay leaf and olives.  Leave (leaf!!) for a couple of minutes then turn up the heat and add the wine.  Leave to bubble for a few minutes until it has reduced by about half.

Add the tinned tomatoes and 200ml water, bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 mins, uncovered.

[At this point you can leave the sauce and take up the recipe later – either put it in the fridge overnight, or freeze it.]

Season with salt and pepper.

Cut the cod into large chunks, about 2 inches long.  Add to the sauce, then cover and simmer for about 5 minutes (depending on thickness of fish), until it’s opaque. Mix through the parsley then serve.

Eat with green salad, fancy bread, or – to bring a touch of Paddy to your plate -  a big bowl of spuds.   

*(Rather freaky update: While standing shivering in the park yesterday, who should jog past me – twice - but... Paddy S! Suspect am now going to see him several times a week for the rest of my life.)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

We need to talk about Billy

Years and years ago, the world’s fattest, most annoying dog appeared, out of nowhere, on my parents’ front doorstep.  Having just gotten rid of the world’s most stupid dog (to the Grim Reaper) they were – understandably- reluctant to take on another pooch.  However, as often happens with stray dogs - particularly greedy, tenacious stray dogs - one night became two, became 7, became 10 years.

Throughout this time, the dog – now named Billy – got bigger and fatter and more annoying with every passing day.  Which didn’t stop the Boy from adoring him;  on the contrary, his abnormally high levels of irritation seemed to appeal to the Boy, who delighted in particular in feeding him whole, raw potatoes. 

Years passed, and Billy eventually got so annoying sick that he was, last year – more perhaps? – given a one-way ticket to the great potato patch in the sky. His absence under our feet at the dinner table during visits to Dublin was explained by “holidays”.  “He’s on his holidays,” I’d say, when asked, on a loop, where Billy was.  “Still on holidays,” I’d say, 6 months later. 

Not that the Boy’s queries were confined to our visits to Dublin;  periodically he’s brought up – in memory only – here. (He was, however, responsible once for literally bringing up his predecessor;  the memory of him gambolling about with something – what is he holding? Oh sweet Jesus... – in his mouth is one which will haunt me forever.  Let that alone serve as a warning to NEVER bury a dog in a shallow grave in a back garden.  Remember: Even fat dogs can dig.)

Months having passed since the last enquiry, I assumed that Billy has finally been forgotten.  Then last night, while discussing a forthcoming trip to Dublin:  “We’ll see Billy!!”. 

I decided it was time to tell him the truth.  We’ve spoken about death ALOT so I figured there wouldn’t be too much explaining to do.

“Billy is dead, sweetheart.  He died a long time ago.”

“Why did he die?”

“He got very old, and his body stopped working, and he died.”

“Why did his body stop working?”

“It just did.  So, back to Dublin.  Who else...”

“Where is he now?”

“He’s dead honey.”

“Yes, but where IS he?”

“His body is buried in the garden.” (Will they never learn?)


“When he died Pops buried his body in the garden.”  [Actually, thinking about it I think they had him cremated. I know!  A dog!  Either way, we were always going to hit a sticky spot here.]


[At which point I realised, notwithstanding having been through this dozens of times already, he still doesn’t get it.  Not that it’s the easiest concept to get, of course, but I thought by now he’d at least grasped the fundamentals.]

“He won’t.  When you’re dead you don’t move any more.  You go to sleep and never wake up.”

“Do you have dreams?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Your brain has stopped working.  All of your body stops working.  So it’s like sleep, but forever.”

“For EVER???”

I nod.

“And THEN what happens??”

“Um... you sort of... [cough]... melt into the ground and then... [splutter]... turn into soil.”


[OhGodohGodohGod.  Then:  brainwave!] “It’s the circle of life.  Like in The Lion King.  You start from nothing then go back to nothing.”


[By now I am wishing that I could melt into the ground and turn into soil]

“Do you remember before you were born?”

[He looks at me sideways.  I know and he knows - and he knows that I know - that he can barely remember yesterday]

“Well, it’s like that.  Before you were born you didn’t exist.  And after you die, you don’t exist.” 

“I won’t essist?”


“Will you essist?”


“Nobody will essist?”

“Eventually, no.”


And so ended another traumatic bed-time chat. 

Or so I thought.  This morning, he was lying on his bed, pjs off, tugging on his willy.

“Willy, someday you won’t essist.  You will get old and stop working and then I’ll bury you in the garden.” 

I think we might be back to square one.