Thursday, 8 December 2011

To believe or not to believe...

Christmas is now 17 sleeps away.  Come December, those of us with children collectively relax our parenting skills and leave some of the discipline to that ageless, bearded benefactor, Santa Claus.  Each of us will, at some stage between the opening of the first window of the advent calendar and Christmas Day, perpetuate the myth that Santa will be listening in on and watching intently the misdemeanours of our children.

I happen to believe wholeheartedly that childhood is all too fleeting and diminishes a little (like the economy), year upon year, as this world becomes a darker and more foreboding place.  I still believe this and accordingly strive to ensure that my son’s childhood is enriched with magical memories to cherish forever.

However, I am also a realist and when I’m feeling hard on myself, I see Christmas for what it is - one big lie we tell our children.  A lie one day we will have to confess to upholding for several years and consequently embark on a damage limitation exercise of monumental proportions.  Either that, or leave it to the cool kids at school to enlighten our children and simultaneously administer one of life’s bitter pills. 

Until now I have always managed to quash these negative thoughts and have been swept away on a tidal wave of festive cheer, unyielding in my affirmation of Santa.  But, only yesterday, I was again given cause to question this conviction.

When I had my son, I vowed never to lie to him.  Parents can be deceitful and whilst this is oft borne out of a desire to do right by one’s children, it can be counter productive and facilitate a climate of suspicion.  Not volunteering information is tantamount to lying in my opinion, particularly when used as an avoidance tactic, such as not telling your child that you have signed him up for swimming lessons (knowing the negative reaction it would cause).  I have always ensured the lines of communication are open in my relationship with my son and have told the truth a little in advance of the event itself, no matter how unpalatable, to give me time to mentally prepare him and to hopefully turn the situation around.  I have taken this approach with everything from inoculations to starting nursery and school.  Honesty is the best policy in my opinion.  Admittedly this approach has had mixed results, such as my insistence that he attended Beavers for at least three weeks before I considered he was justified in asserting his intense hatred of the experience!

However, on the whole, this has served me well and I believe that my son trusts me implicitly.  I think that is why, when my son asked me the other day “Is Father Christmas real?  Tell the truth now!”  I hesitated.  I considered the tone of his question.  It was teasing, but there was a hint of fragility, a sense that if I had told the truth, he would have been crushed.  This persuaded me to continue the lie, but has left me feeling deeply uncomfortable. 

An overriding cynicism pervades my own childhood memories of Santa Claus.  I recall casually identifying our school Headmaster as a bogus Santa at the school Christmas Fete, in spite of his authentically rotund physique and naturally ruddy cheeks.  It also didn’t go unnoticed by me that local TV stations would advertise appearances by Santa at shopping centres across the county on the same day.  I would ask:  “How can he be in all those places at the same time?”  But ultimately I needed evidence and clearly remember leaving an autograph book on my bedside table to satisfy myself that it was Santa I heard every year, dragging a sack across the landing and whispering loudly (presumably to himself!) some time after midnight.  I don’t even recall being particularly upset or surprised when I learned the truth. 

I think that is why I feel so guilty now.  I seem to have passed on my tendency to apply logic to every situation to my son.  He is a stickler for detail and will not for example simply accept that Santa listens in on conversations.  He wants to know how this is possible, although my husband’s response that he has spies dotted around the place, albeit a little sinister, does seem to have satisfied him on this for now.  He also wants to know exactly where Santa lives, what his house is like and how he can deliver presents to all children when sleep is a prerequisite.  (He’s got me here.  My son is notoriously nocturnal and has in fact inspired my first book – Diary of a Sleep Deprived Mum.  If all children were like my son, Santa would have to have a rocket-propelled sleigh to successfully complete his rounds by Christmas morning!)

As befits a child finding his or her place in the world, questions on the trickiest of subjects are inevitable.  It just gets harder to field them I find, especially given my honesty policy.  A particularly challenging example is the big life question itself, the existence of God.  My son has also recently asked this question (again, clearly triggered by Christmas and the nativity story).  My beliefs, I feel, are irrelevant.  No matter how fantastical the idea of a godly presence watching over us may be to a practically minded six year old, I would like him to take that leap of faith at his tender age.  A friend advised that in their household, such questions are handled by firstly explaining what some people believe before asking their children what they think.  This is a wonderful approach, which encourages independent thought. 

Unfortunately, on this subject, my son is reluctant to offer his opinion unless and until he is furnished with all the facts.  These include what God looks like, where he actually lives and the precise location of Heaven (which my son has currently decided is in outer space). 

Sadly my responses on this subject have so far been a little wishy-washy, which has had the advantage of deterring him from asking further questions.  For now.  Perhaps I should be grateful for small mercies and time out to gather my thoughts.  I should appreciate that my son thinks I’m a dullard who changes the subject when questions become too difficult for my withering, decrepit brain. 

With recent interrogations still at the forefront of my mind, last night we received a visit from a superior bogus Santa courtesy of the local Rotary Club.  He had an authentic costume (not for the Rotary Club is the slapdash approach to beard adhesive) and a sleigh (thankfully, the vehicle towing him, engine still running, was just out of sight behind the garden wall).  As we stepped out into the frosty night air, I glanced up at the stars and was suddenly reminded of a momentary lapse in my childhood Santa cynicism.  I remembered looking out of my bedroom window, convinced that I had heard sleigh bells and actually believing I could see Rudolph’s nose streaking across the night sky.  More than that, I remembered the sheer wonder and frisson of excitement I experienced at that moment.  Suddenly our white lie weighed a little less on my conscience.  Surely we all deserve to experience a little magic at least once in our lives?  Even if it turns out to be misplaced, I think that the belief itself, however temporary, feels real enough to make a lasting impression.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Caesarean Section - A woman's right to choose

Today the headlines are screaming about new and controversial guidelines for England and Wales issued by NICE (National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence), which state that pregnant women who request a Caesarean delivery should be allowed to have the operation, even without a persuasive medical requirement, provided that they are offered counselling and advised of the risks first.

I am not clear as to why such headlines are tagged as controversial.  Dig a little deeper and it is clear that these guidelines are in line with what is actually happening right now in hospitals.

The Deputy Chief Executive of NICE, Dr Gillian Leng has been quoted as saying:  “This guideline is not about offering free caesareans for all on the NHS.  It is about ensuring that women give birth in the way that is most appropriate for them and their babies.  Offering these women a planned caesarean section in these circumstances is a very long way from saying that caesarean section should automatically be offered to every woman.”

For the record, C-section figures have remained static for a number of years now, (although they had been steadily rising for many more) and it is anticipated that the rate will fall if the new guidelines are implemented.  Wendy Savage, a retired professor of obstetrics believes that the rise in C-sections was as a result of obstetricians being too keen to carry them out, rather than women themselves requesting the operation.

For me, the three main issues here, sidelined in the midst of hysteria about women being given a choice and misinterpretation of the facts, are as follows:-

a)      Many obstetricians are keen on C-sections because they have not been adequately trained on vaginal deliveries, according to Wendy Savage;
b)      There has existed a mentality of once a C-section, always a C-section and this should be challenged and;
c)      The inevitable costs issue.  Planned C-sections are more expensive than vaginal deliveries.

Many experts believe that equipped with the correct advice on the inherent risks associated with such a major operation and feeling confident in the support on offer during labour, most women would elect for a natural birth in any event. 

Speaking as a woman who gave birth by C-section, my only comment would be that women obviously need support – both medical and emotional - during their hours of labour and today’s story does not seem to take account of the desperate shortage of midwives.

I was lucky.  I greeted and bid farewell to a number of midwives during my lengthy labour and, after 48 hours of a stop/start labour, which failed to respond to chemical inducement, I was more than willing to sign the necessary paperwork in order to have the recommended C-section.  Let me tell you, after almost 48 hours with little sleep and a cocktail of drugs running through my veins, it is hard to judge whether or not I was capable of making this decision.  Certainly I was advised of the associated risks (possible damage to bowel amongst them), but all I knew was that my baby was too high, was not going to budge and I was way too tired to push any longer.  Also, my C-section was subsequently classified as an emergency caesarean as a result of the length of time I had been in labour. 

However, my post-operative recovery was swift.  Perhaps I was one of the lucky ones, but considering the operation is likened to a hysterectomy, I was up on my feet and taking regular walks within a fortnight, my scar healed well and I experienced no complications or associated discomfort aside from the obvious localised tenderness.

Surely, given the current shortage of midwives, it is better to offer women a choice, provided this is more than matched by the information and counselling on offer?  I recall constantly being asked about my birth plan by my midwife throughout my pregnancy and was dead set on a water birth.  The reality of the situation was altogether different.  My experience just demonstrated how a birth plan might be rendered null and void in an instant.

However, a choice must be balanced and fairly executed.  It is unethical surely to offer an informed choice on a planned C-section if the alternative (and allegedly the option most woman would opt for) is to have a vaginal delivery poorly executed by an untrained obstetrician.  I’m certain that the allegation of lack of training is perhaps not rife in the NHS, but if it is an issue at all, then it stands shoulder to shoulder with the shortage of midwives and serves as reason enough in my opinion, to allow women the freedom to choose how they give birth.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Paperback vs Kindle

There is something that’s been bugging me recently and I need answers.  Perhaps you can help. Which is better at fulfilling our collective desire for a good yarn or lamp lit stolen moments of literary escapism – the paperback or the Kindle?  There’s only one way to find out.  Fight!!!

Full credit there to Harry Hill’s TV Burp, but seriously, how many of us now prefer to download our books rather than leafing through the trusty, but frankly old fashioned paperback?

As a staunch advocate of the paperback, this was not something I ever thought I would be deliberating over.  That’s not to say I am some technophobe who carries around loose change in case I need to use a phone box (in the misguided belief that a mobile phone will give me some terrible disease) or who refuses to hand over my credit card details to cyberspace.  (As an aside, my husband was a latecomer to the mobile phone owners’ club and as a result of my description of him a colleague once expressed his disappointment on finally meeting my husband, at the fact that he had not arrived on a Penny Farthing!)  No, for the record, I own a Blackberry, I’ve downloaded music, I’ve just completed two thirds of my Christmas shopping on line and if you were to ask my husband, he would definitely say that I am a Twitter addict. 

The last pocket of resistance in terms of my embracing the ever-changing world of technological advances in leisure pursuits is Kindle.  I am fully aware that Kindle downloads are cheaper and faster than having to fork out the full RRP and associated travel/postage costs in order to acquire the paperback.  But I like something tangible and until now, the prospect of reading a book – someone’s labour of love – in some cases, work of art – did not entice me.

My first book, Diary of a Sleep Deprived Mum has been published recently and, as is the current trend, has been converted to, and is now available on Kindle.  Thus, my curiosity has been aroused.  A first book is like a first baby - you don’t want to miss a thing - and so Kindle is now the missing piece of the jigsaw for me.  I have a paperback copy and I have the press coverage, but I have yet to read it on that lightweight tablet of electro-genius that is Kindle.

So, before I take the leap and purchase one for myself (the model I have in mind is the more expensive version with free WiFi and so not to be taken lightly), there are a few questions I have.  Thankfully, for the purposes of this blog, my long-term friend and self-confessed gadget freak, Neil, was on hand with his Kindle, to dispel some of the myths and counter my romantic attachment to the faithful, dog-eared paperback.

First up, eyestrain.  This is perhaps not the most obvious argument against Kindle, but nonetheless relevant to me as someone who spends much of her time in front of a screen.  According to my friend, eyestrain is all but eradicated on Kindle thanks to its amazing anti-glare screen which fools the reader into believing that their eyes are moving over paper.

I also understand that Kindle is very lightweight, unlike the book I am reading at the moment (Wild Swans), which is quite a tome.  But can you fold a Kindle in half when your head is resting on the pillow at night and flatten one half against the pillow, enabling you to read in a position just perfect to induce slumber?  No you cannot!

Ah, says Neil, but the Kindle will read to you if you’re too lazy/sleepy to read yourself, thereby lulling you to the land of nod.  You can’t argue with that, can you?

If I’m honest, the real sticking point for me is the fact that no matter what Kindle offers, it cannot replace the sheer tangibility of a paper copy.  Surely a screen encased in grey plastic is not something to cherish in the way that a book is, with the corners of the good and yellowing pages turned over – a snapshot in time of your passions and interests.  Books are for displaying on shelves; to be picked up again and again, loaned out, leafed through, and admired.  How can the smooth and glossy pink cover of Diary of a Sleep Deprived Mum, designed by my husband, be appreciated on a screen?  A Kindle lacks soul.

Maybe so, but at a fraction of the price of a normal paperback, says my trusty friend, one can afford to take a chance on those books by new, unknown, and as yet unrated authors (such as myself) which might otherwise be left in the book store.  And let’s not forget that it is possible to download newspapers and magazines to Kindle, thereby avoiding the mountain of recyclable paper cluttering up your living room.  I am still to be completely persuaded on this, but if there’s an argument to say that Kindle can help save the planet, then my eco-conscience will ensure that I invest in a Kindle and pronto.

One final point in favour of the Kindle is the battery life, which I am told is very good – up to three months on one charge.  And that for all you geeks out there is probably going to sell it to you.  A Kindle can go on and on, whereas sooner or later a book will succumb to discolouration and dust mites.

So, who wins the fight?  I’ll let you be the judge.  I shall closely monitor the download and paperback sales figures over the coming months.  For now, the jury’s out on this one.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Finding the perfect pet

My name is Claire.  I am thirty-eight years old and I am an animal lover.  If I had my way, an unlimited amount of space and a bottomless disposable income, I would end my days as an eccentric old lady dressed in tweed (well, maybe something a little more Vivienne Westwood), taking in all manner of waifs and strays.

However, we have very little free interior space, having converted our loft to house our home office.  This has left me with a small, boxed-in corner of the room in which to store Christmas decorations, books I refuse to part with but never read and an array of junk, which will probably never see the light of day, but which I am convinced may just come in handy some time.  Oh and obviously, as a writer, I do not have an enormous disposable income. 

I am also married to a man who is unlikely to indulge my idealistic dream of playing Saint Francis to every four legged creature who pauses and meets my gaze through our patio doors.  My husband does like animals - indeed, I have known him to move snails from footpaths (and certain death) to a safer spot - it’s just that he is a realist and understands the associated responsibilities of pet ownership and until now, working from home, maintaining said home and raising our boisterous son have provided responsibility enough.

Whilst I fully appreciate that pets are for life and not just for Christmas and my heart should not rule my head, it has not stopped me pining for one.  My puppy and companion of fourteen years was given to me on my seventh birthday and as an only child, he made me less selfish, more compassionate and proved to be a wonderfully loyal companion.  In retrospect though, I would not describe a dog as the perfect pet.  Unless you are happy to leave your dog in kennels, then every day out, every holiday, needs to be planned around it.  Freedom is curtailed.

Smaller animals - hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits - might offer greater freedom, but they still require maintenance and someone to look after them during absences on holiday.  Also I am not clear on exactly what they offer in return. 

I had three hamsters in total and as a result, three abiding and traumatic memories.  First up, disease.  Hamsters in my experience have a tendency to develop unsavoury diseases and die quickly as per my first one.  They can also be aggressive little beasts, the only physical contact I ever had with my second hamster being the sensation of its needle-sharp teeth embedded in my thumb or forefinger.  During the day, it would variously sleep, play on its wheel or hang off my finger with a Terrier-like grip and in the evening, escape from its cage and chew the carpet in my bedroom, much to my house proud mother’s frustration.  You would think we would have learnt from these experiences, but gluttons for punishment, we had a third stab at successful and rewarding human/hamster relations.  But alas, our fate was sealed.  My third and final hamster scratched his way up to the top of my parents’ corner cabinet and jumped to its death.

As far as guinea pigs are concerned, I can only comment from my one and only experience.  My best friend had a pet guinea pig.  She called her Caroline (!)  Caroline lived in the garage and was rarely mentioned.  Enough said.

Part of my husband’s reluctance to acquire a pet cat can be attributed to his own childhood experience with his cat, Sam.  Sam was a works cat, used to parading around a factory and unequivocally unused to being domesticated.  Consequently it did not recognise the concept of play, would disappear for weeks on end sowing his wild oats, and re-appear briefly to recuperate from a bloody catfight by filling its gut and sleeping solidly for two days, before disappearing off into the wilderness again.

I have therefore had an uphill struggle trying to persuade my husband as to the merits of a pet cat.  I am proud of my negotiation skills on this issue.  I went in hard, insisting that we should get a dog.  I threw in all the standard dog-lover sentiments; loyalty, health benefits, companionship and at the point he began to break a sweat and dig his heels in, I gently floated the idea of adopting a kitten.  He acquiesced and borne out of relief that I had finally dropped the subject of dogs, suggested that we go and visit our local RSPCA centre.

The rest is history.  Mowzer has been with us for a week and rarely leaves my husband’s side.  Given my husband’s reluctance to invest his time and money into a member of the animal kingdom, he now loves this kitten unconditionally.  I can say this assuredly because only a man in love would flinch and grimace, but remain silent when a kitten demonstrating his hunting skills claws a rather delicate part of his anatomy! 

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Meaning of Excitement

Excited.  It’s a word, which is oft overused, particularly in celebrity circles where it’s standard PR patter for stars touting their latest TV show/fragrance/ clothing line.  How many times have you heard the line:  “I love working with him/her.  It’s a great opportunity and I’m really excited?”  Excited, in this context, usually means: “eager to cash that cheque.”

We all know and use the word, but how many of us in adulthood feel truly excited?  For me, the prospect of a holiday, a brand new pair of boots or even an extra hour in bed, can evoke something akin to excitement, but it’s relatively short lived.  The last time I experienced the genuine article was after the birth of my son.  But babies grow into little people, and over time, excitement is somehow tempered by worry and the kind of nervous energy, which drives all mothers to constantly evaluate their children’s happiness, health and ability to cope at school.

No, if you want to see pure, unadulterated excitement, then just study your children.  Only this morning, our son gasped and said “Wow” with really-mean-it expressiveness at a rudimentary homemade pirate ship whittled out of a piece of wood by his grandfather.  I just know that tonight will be a late one, as he will insist on taking the ship to bed with him, his imagination overpowering any desire to sleep.  He will be transported onto the high seas as a pirate captain, the duvet his ocean.

Such nocturnal activities I sometimes consider a problem, given the demands of school.  However, this is part of our son’s make-up.  From very early on, he didn’t sleep as much as other babies and small children.  We tried just about every parenting trick in the book, but if not in the mood for sleep; he would simply stay awake until such time as he burnt out.  The slightest whisper of an interesting day ahead or the promise of something new (no matter how small) could and still does, add hours on to bedtime, such is his excitement.  In addition, a late night would not guarantee a late morning - quite the opposite in fact.  As soon as the first light of dawn found its way beyond the curtains (we now black out the windows), he would be awake and raring to go, the previous night’s cause of excitement still fresh in his mind.

The trials and tribulations of a child who fights sleep have prompted me to write my own book (Diary of a Sleep Deprived Mum) aimed at parents, particularly those who have suffered at the sharp end of sleep deprivation.  It’s in diary format and autobiographical, so you can all learn from and laugh at my mistakes!

However, I too am learning, slowly, to rein in my own enthusiasm on occasions when it might instigate a night of wakefulness.  A perfect example would be the coming weekend.  We are intending to visit our local RSPCA to select a longed for kitten to become our family pet.  Yet our son is currently in blissful ignorance of this fact, in order that my husband and I stand a fighting chance of having an undisturbed Friday evening.  It took a while for me to realise the necessity of this approach, as I have always like to share plans with all and sundry.  But the reality is that our son’s excitement would result in a lack of sleep until Saturday - and possibly throughout the following week - until such time as we are able to bring the kitten home.  I, for one, could do without having a tired and grouchy child to contend with.  Tired, grouchy and over-excited do not make for a good combination.

Therefore, we will wait until Saturday morning and then break the news en route.  So if on Saturday, you listen carefully and are convinced that you are hearing the first sporadic fireworks of November 5th, this may just be the resulting crackle of excitement and air punching emanating from one over-excited six-year-old boy!


Monday, 8 August 2011

UP AGAINST IT

If I had the time, I would write about my new found love of Spanish cuisine.

If I had the time, I would write about how concerned I am at the staggering difference a week's lack of exercise and over-indulgence has made to the texture of my thighs.

If I had the time, I would write about how sad I feel that we won't hear Amy's sweet voice again.

If I had the time, I would write about the ever increasing pile of books I really want to read.

If I had the time, I would write how, for the first time, I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of Autumn and whether or not that correlates to my age.

If I had the time, I would write about my cunning shortcut to familiarising myself with certain of Shakespeare's plays - a selection of "written for children" volumes acquired from my local charity shop - my six year old providing a perfect excuse.

If I had the time, I would write about how I long to go wild swimming before the water temperature dips low enough to guarantee hypothermia.

If I had the time, I would write about my quest to perfect the silent movie star arched brow before my face falls so far south the whole concept is futile.

If I had the time, I would.  But I don't because I am toiling over my book and you lot are distracting me!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

PLANES, BANES AND EXTORTIONATE MEALS

In high spirits and with even higher expectations for our mini break to Ireland, we arrived at the airport with our single allotted piece of hand luggage per person.  Prior to leaving and already several hours down on sleep, courtesy of my son, C’s persistent night- time cough, I had bowed to pressure and allowed him to pack his own bag.  Having already squeezed enough socks, pants and T-shirts into my own hand luggage to clothe a small African school, I did not fuss too much over C’s choice of accoutrements.  Little did I know at this stage, that C had packed a particularly authentic looking toy replica sword, which inexplicably made it through security.

None too keen on flying myself, I headed for Boots to buy some drugs.  Thanks to the Al Qaeda chemists, gone are the days when I could board a flight with a plastic water bottle full of home measured G&T.  Anyway it’s far from seemly to accompany one’s six year old onto a plane and attempt to coax the airline stewards into hosting a karaoke contest in the middle of their delivery of the in flight safety instructions.  Or, for that matter, to shout drunkenly: “Thank fuck for that!” upon landing.

This time, I opted for some herbal pastilles purported to calm nerves.  The instructions suggested consuming one, as required.  Once on the plane, I crammed a fistful into my mouth, which, within minutes, had amalgamated into one large and highly adhesive mass of jelly.  This made it difficult for me to talk, the mass having stuck fast to the roof of my mouth.  Unfortunately, C took this as a sign of high anxiety on my part and promptly burst into tears.  I managed to prize the goo from the roof of my mouth and explained to C that everything was fine and that he should, "Look out of the window with Daddy".

Caroline and family provided a healthy distraction.  I watched as she busily force-fed a variety of dried snacks into her infant daughter Charlotte’s mouth so that she couldn’t scream or cry.  At one stage, I became a little concerned that Charlotte might sneeze and block the air vents with congealed flour based products, but this passed.

Once in the air, I felt the pastilles taking effect.  My hands were placed neatly and semi-relaxed in my lap throughout the journey, as opposed to clenching the armrests or repeatedly adjusting my seatbelt to the point of cutting off my blood supply.  I also accepted my husband’s explanations of the various noises I could detect as opposed to convincing myself that an announcement of terminal engine failure was imminent.  However, I still allowed myself an expression of relief upon landing, although this took the form of a little cheer, rather than the usual profanities.

The remainder of the journey passed without incident and I was feeling optimistic about the B&B I had discovered on line and booked with the curt, but professional Morgan.  I felt qualified to describe to Morgan as “curt” despite the fact that we had until now only communicated by email, because her responses were, shall we say, without frills.  I put this down to running a busy B&B and not having time at her disposal to lavish on linguistic flourishes when confirming bookings.  However, on arrival, I realised that first impressions often prove to be accurate.

Morgan was immediately christened “Mrs Tweedy” by our party; Mrs Tweedy being the psychotic farmer’s wife in the film “Chicken Run”.  The uncanny resemblance was acknowledged by us all and was made all the more disturbing as a result of her take on hospitality (or should I say hostility?)

Even though the property had polished floorboards throughout, save for the occasional rug, Mrs Tweedy was able to approach from behind without making a sound.  This was most disconcerting, particularly given that on those occasions, we were usually talking about her.

Caroline and Bob were most freaked out about Mrs Tweedy, convinced that she had taken an instant dislike to them.  This belief manifested itself within 12 hours of our arrival as a result of Mrs Tweedy’s failure to a) shake their hands on arrival and b) offer tomato sauce at breakfast.  Bob, who dislikes eggs (the only moist foodstuff on his plate), therefore tucked into a breakfast as dry as a desert with only limited tea to wash it down.

Mrs Tweedy had an economic approach to table laying and portion control.  At breakfast, we each received one knife, which performed doubly as an eating iron and butter knife.  The watered down orange juice was served in glasses from a doll’s house.  Toast was issued by hand, two slices at a time.  For some reason, the brown bread was never toasted - only the white - and Mrs Tweedy seemed to appear on cue when the last slice had been consumed in order to dole out our ration of two more slices.  There was a resulting frisson of excitement over whether the toast would be brown, white or a combination.  On at least one occasion, I found myself checking the portraits hanging on the walls, suspecting that the subjects had moving eyes.  

No one dared to make a specific request for white or brown bread or coffee or tea.  I vaguely recall being given a choice of coffee or tea on the first morning, but we were then committed to that choice ad infinitum.  We took what we were given and asked for no more.  Only my husband, (who was bullied into doing so by his cowardly companions), had the audacity to ask for anything over and above what appeared onto the table.  He tentatively approached Mrs Tweedy for a glass of milk for C.  His wish was granted, but only after an awkward moment during which a handful of miniature cartons were thrust into his hand, thereby forcing him to expand on his definition of “a glass of milk”, to which Mrs Tweedy responded:  “We are only a B&B!”

On the first night, we ensured that our children were fed and watered early in the evening.  Taking no chances, we provided them with the standard fare guaranteed not to provoke discord in ninety per cent of children – sausages.  However, when we had settled our children and were able to think about our own evening meal, it occurred to us that we were somewhat stuck, given that Caroline’s youngest was in bed.

I remain convinced that Mrs Tweedy read my thoughts as she appeared without warning in the doorway, armed with a leaflet on local eateries.  At this point I seized the moment and muttered something along the lines of, “We haven’t eaten yet, but the children have and I don’t suppose it’s possible to get a takeaway as we are in a B&B…?” thus leaving the door open for Mrs Tweedy to protest loudly at my negative train of thought and insist that we purchase a takeaway forthwith and bring it back to our digs.  Instead, there was a classic tumbleweed moment.  A different approach was required.

This time Caroline came to the fore and asked if it would be possible to bring back a selection of “nibbles” and eat them in the dining room.  Morgan managed a clipped and disingenuous, “Of course.” 

Our version of “nibbles” it transpired, differed greatly to our respective husbands, who spent a grand total of 50 Euros on continental cheeses, meats, bread, crisps, dips and wine at the local supermarket.  Our nibbles filled the dining table and we devoured them with gusto.  Naturally, Mrs Tweedy appeared at the precise point we were busy scattering crumbs all over her tablecloth and said:  “Oh, you’re still here”, should we remain in any doubt as to her disapproval.

Strangely, as the weekend wore on, Mrs Tweedy seemed to warm to us, even venturing to ask what brought us to Ireland.  But by now, we were under no illusions that the thawing of her attitude towards us was due to the fact that in less than 24 hours, she would be rid of us.

We parted company on Sunday morning and Mrs Tweedy said – genuinely through gritted teeth – “Maybe see you again next time you’re over.”

Our return journey was a little more eventful.  Derry security detected C’s sword in record time and promptly confiscated it.  C took this better than I expected, probably because he seems to have convinced himself that a replacement sword will be delivered to him any day now, courtesy of Ryan air. 

As the airport gates opened, C’s lip began to wobble and for a moment or two I feared that he had inherited my fear of flying after all.  Yet somehow he was enchanted by the whole night flight experience.  The things that I find daunting (the lights being turned off, the fact that we are so far off the ground), C found mesmerising.  He even swapped seats with G and stared in awe out of the window throughout.  As I read and re-read a particularly boring article on a boutique hotel in some far flung destination I am unlikely to ever visit, I couldn’t help but feel proud that C had proved himself a free thinker.  It would be impossible for him not to have detected my anxiety and he was old enough to work out that those illustrations on the back of the headrests have nothing to do with inflatable toys.  He had decided all by himself that being elevated above the clouds and gazing at the twinkling lights below, were nothing short of thrilling.  Either that, or he mistook the light on the wing for the control tower light! 

Until next time…





Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Paranoid Parent

With all the negative press stories recently concerning the use and abuse of technology - from the Twitter storm over that footballer, to the ongoing tabloid newspapers/phone hacking scandal - it is wise to be vigilant and dare I venture, a little more economic with the personal information we share with the rest of the world.

I say this only days after finally getting round to setting up a Twitter account, starting a blog and almost throwing my smart phone against the wall in frustration for repeatedly failing to upload to Facebook a photo the world really needs to see: my son with green beans hanging out of his nose!  I am clearly not practising what I preach.  After years of pouring scorn over the obsession with inflicting mundane daily life updates on our friends via the web, I could no more commit Facebook suicide now than give up chocolate.

That's not to say that I don't secretly harbour a fear that my information could fall into the hands of the insane and I could find myself landed with a stalker, who will somehow track me down to my home address and take up residence in an empty neighbouring house in order to track my movements with all the usual psycho equipment:  binoculars, heat seeking equipment etc.

Only this morning, I was idly leafing through the TV guide, when I spotted a review of Jo Frost's new show.  I have dipped in and out of her shows over the years, mostly deriving voyeuristic pleasure from some of the extreme cases she has handled and congratulating myself that however bad I sometimes think my parental control is, it is truly something to behold compared to the dramas played out on screen.

However, this morning, my blood froze as the review described the individual cases featured in tonight's episode.  It cannot be mere coincidence that the show includes a boy who fervently resists going to bed and another (I'm thinking it's the same child) who lives in a superhero fantasy world.  As I write, I am poised to hit "send" on an email I have drafted to the show's producers.  In summary, I think Jo Frost is spying on my family. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

What's your swimming style?

I am back on course with my exercise regime.  After a month of hedonistic indulgences, (there are only so many times you can say "yes" to double cream, before the thighs take on the appearance of jellyfish moving beneath the surface of the skin)  I am determined to maintain my weekly swim and regular walking.  I have also publicly pledged to join a Pilate's class in September, which means I now have to.  I've said it out loud.

However, this is by no means an attempt to attain "Yummy Mummy" status.  I am as guilty as anyone, for making fun of the "Yummy Mummy" phenomenon.  I just don't possess or understand their motivation in dressing up simply to drop their children off at school.  And before you ask, yes I have taken into account working mothers who have to look smart.  The Yummy Mummy is a different breed altogether.  We are talking stripper heels, faux fur, full make-up, coiffed hair.  There are also the "alternatives" who dress as though they are going to a rock concert, but in their own way have tried just as hard.  They have cascading, tousled curls, wear leather, ripped jeans, expensive, heavy duty leather boots, Kate Moss kohl lined eyes and armfuls of friendship bracelets.  I don't have the time, uninterrupted cash flow or inclination to compete in that arena for mundane activities.

If I'm presented with a choice between looking fabulous at dawn break, complete with glowing skin, silky hair (hair that moves in slow motion, without falling out of place) and toned glutes clad in leg-enhancing, stylist-selected trousers, as opposed to three presses of my "Snooze" button first thing in the morning, then I will opt for the latter every time.  My current short-cut secret weapons are sunglasses and maxi skirts.  They have served me well during what will no doubt turn out to be our last few days of summer, disguising the dark circles below my eyes and even darker eleven o'clock shadow enveloping my legs.

This does not mean that I do not secretly aspire to be considered "Yummy" (please someone, coin a different phrase!)  It's just that my primary focus is on achieving the perfect balance of curves and toning in order to look great in whatever I pick up off the floor and throw on in a morning (maybe the new phrase should be “Slutty Mummy”).  I would like to have that natural sense of style which sometimes evades me now I am thirty-something.  Whereas a few short years ago, I was wholly confident in my outfit choices, these days, I am plagued by doubt.  My husband's standard patter ("It's fine") doesn't really cut it any more and my worst fear is being perceived as "mutton dressed as lamb".  I have also recently put on a few pounds and whilst I am quite happy with this, as certain items from my wardrobe now fit rather than hang, nonetheless, I want to ensure that the extra pounds are sculpted to my body like perfect consistency clay, rather than resembling mashed potato in a stocking.

Today, the weather was perfectly conducive to a swim - the sort of sultry weather that makes you want to disrobe and plunge into the cold depths at the foot of a waterfall or take a moonlit skinny dip in the surf with a group of golden gods.  For the sake of convenience, I opted for the local public swimming pool's adults only session.  This is local council speak for pensioners combining their weekly gossip with exercise (if wading like baby elephants for half a length before returning to the comfort of the side counts for exercise).

Taking advantage of the weather and wearing my latest maxi dress; firmly rooted in the seventies with its halterneck top and yellow and brown abstract floral pattern, I quickly realised that my grasp of seventies Californian soft-rock chic did not apply to my swimming attire.  The material of my swimming costume is slowly perishing from the frequent chlorine onslaughts and has shiny, thread-thinning patches in several places (I pray to God these are confined to the front!)  I had thought that the one piece costume was a safer option after last week's Tankini outing, which nearly resulted in me swimming out of my swim shorts when attempting to elegantly propel myself through the water from the side.   How wrong I was!

The second failing in my swim style is my choice of goggles.  I have yet to find the perfect pair.  Admittedly it is near impossible to look stylish in a pair of goggles, but my growing collection fall into two categories; the ones that work but leave circular imprints around my eyes for the next twelve hours and today's selection; the ones that work for approximately thirty seconds before gradually filling up with water from the inside.

For once, my bikini line was firmly in check, although I can't vouch for the quality of my fake tan.  As for my colour enhanced locks, I can't bear to wear a swimming cap.  Contrary to all testamentary evidence in support of swimming caps, they do not work for me.  There is always a bulge at the back which allows for seepage.  Also they are bloody uncomfortable and promote a shrunken head appearance.  Therefore, I let my hair flow freely, which it does, usually obscuring my face when I come up for air.  This, combined with my water filled swimming goggles, today caused me to panic momentarily because I couldn't see where I was going and I took in water, which induced a coughing fit.

The final humiliation for me today, was again hair-related.  I had forgotten my comb in my haste to get to the pool on time.  I was also unable to find any cash for the hairdryer (which in any event would struggle to blow the head off a dandelion clock) and so I was forced to wear my hair in a towel turban.  Unfortunately for me, this was not a towel colour co-ordinated to compliment my outfit, secured with a brooch, but the only clean towel I could lay my hands on, namely my son's Micky Mouse towel.

So, that was my morning swim.  The exercise has released the happy hormones.  However, in terms of style, particularly swim style, I remain very much a work in progress.