Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year Resolutions

 ... Or meandering time for a procrastinating procrastinator

Here we go again - another New Year; another list of well intended resolutions; another December 31st when reflection struggles to recall the failed resolutions made a year ago; another day spent stoking the fire of motivation and ambition, tempered only by the nagging doubt that yet again you'll find yourself unable to follow through, you'll leave the fire unattended, return to find barely glowing embers and kick them in frustration into the dust: another precious year will slip through your fingers.

Am I generally a glass half empty or half full sort of person? - I'm definitely happiest when there is something in the glass - but regarding the subject of making and breaking resolutions, I'm definitely glass half empty ... or drained of every last, hope giving drop.But bear with me a little longer in this procrastinating monologue, while I stop to consider if it might be in my power to change this ... could this year be different? Can I keep the flame burning? Can I succeed where before I have always, always failed? How could this be done?

For starters, these are the resolutions I would like to make -

Eat less - too obvious, too predictable, far too common and unless you are a gym-bunny or anxious re-tread, far too likely to fail. Goes hand in miserable hand with Get fitter and Lose weight

Write!!!!!!! and Submit - yes! yes! yes!

Keep a cleaner, tidier house - this may involve killing the felonious kleptosquaters first (you'll have to search previous blogs to find out who they are) and may therefore be messy ... or impossible, given that I suspect they are a figment of my imagination dreamt up to define my disorganisation and forgetfulness and general tardiness and perennial state of procrastination

Cook from fresh more and strive to eat five a day - or if we believe the Americans is it eight or even ten a day, and apart from broccoli and peas how do you get kids to eat their greens? Chocolate coated sprouts anyone?

Be happier, more confident, more relaxed - think this might require a lottery win, so perhaps I should resolve to purchase a lottery ticket every week, although I expect that resolving to stop buying lottery tickets and stop wasting hours planning exactly how to divide the winnings between family, friends, good causes, cars, presents, another dog and holidays might be a better, more noble resolution

Clear the mess that is the fruit cage - this might upset Four-legged-friend who transmutates from gooseberry, to strawberry, to raspberry thief through the summer, but he'll thank me in the long term if it's healthier and tidier

... What a terribly selfish, resolving person I am ... what happened to -

Give more to charity


Be generous with my time

Keep in better contact with family and friends

Walk the dog more

Are these better? Well yes! ... more achievable? - maybe.

So which resolutions really matter? What are yours?

Perhaps, we need to limit ourselves to a couple from each list - the achievable things we want to do for ourselves and the selfless, character enhancing things we do for others.

 I think the secret might be to choose things that are achievable, affordable and ambitious - the first, because we might just succeed, the second because we have to be realistic, and the third because we need to be stretched a little or else it will all be too easy and what's the point of a New Year's Resolution if at the end of the day we don't feel good about it?

So, after all this meandering, here are my New Year Resolutions -

Actually, I'm keeping them to myself. That way I'll enjoy the satisfaction of succeeding. Or won't have to admit to anyone if I fail - I can just crawl into my shell and berate myself. All over again.

Have a very Happy New Year. Good luck with your resolutions.

And thank you for reading.

Walking the dog at year's end

The cutest picture of the year:

Last walk of the year: mud + puddle + freedom off the lead + the odd festering cow pat = lab heaven

Last sniffing-around-for-rabbit-droppings-foxes-and-other-unmentionables session of the year:

Last sun set of the year:

Best picture of the year: profile pic for 2012  ... ?

The sun sets on 2011

Tomorrow - new dawn; new day; new year. Have a good one.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

"Tiny, teeny, absolutely weeny bit" stuffed

Christmas ... Such fun! : from the mince pies and mulled wine after carols, to the meals shared with friends, to the exuberant jig of joy from Littlest when she realised it was time for bed on Christmas Eve, to the plate left out for Father Christmas, to the late night but peacefully alone preparation of turkey and last minute wrapping, to the unexpected internet chat with distant pre-dram brother in law and friends/mums also wrapping or preparing food in the wee small hours, to the early morning tea prepared by Littlest and sister before they woke us (it apparently took the grown ups an hour to make the tea and light the fire before assembling for stocking opening last year - far quicker to do it on their own!), to the wonderful, insightful letter to Littlest from the big man himself which made her feel very special and is now with other treasures in her jewellery case, to Littlest's request for pudding - just a "tiny, teeny, absolutely weeny bit please", to sharing the kitchen with many helping hands, to walking the dog on the warmest Christmas Day any of us could remember, to marvelling at the movement in his hips when presented with the biggest marrow bone he had ever seen (how to keep a Four-legged-friend happy in one easy lesson), to spending Christmas with family, relatives and friends, to watching the sometimes edgy but mostly joyful dynamic at the dinner table - even the risqué chatter seemed not to bother the most formality prone, manner fancying, elderly relative (but I suspect he has never sat at a dinner where the word 'penis' was tossed up the table - as Littlest's eyes popped, everyone else just giggled, and elderly in law manfully continued to munch his "over al-dente'd sprouts"), to the table that kept us eating and drinking for over five hours (truly stuffed!) - with interludes for singing, barber shop, piano playing, and finally, to the games, the laughs, the hugs at home time. And the quiet satisfaction of a day well done.

Happy stompers all.

Except Littlest who found an easier way to travel -

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Festive conversations

'Tis the season to be jolly, to sit round a fire with friends, to meet strangers over drinks, to search the vacant plot of conversational ideas in our minds, and panic while wearing an equally vacant smile. And then ... discuss the weather.

Alternatively, we could in advance consider a list of possible topics:

  • While the global/European financial situation could be considered the perfect recipe for inducing sleep after a substantial feast, it also has the advantage of being a topic with no correct answers; one which will generate as many opinions for its solution as there are people sat round your table and one that unless any of your guests happens to be a government financial adviser, no one will have any chance of influencing anyway, so basically everyone can safely say exactly what they want, no matter how extreme. 

  • Children - we as a family fall into all three of the broad topics on the subject of childhood - the nappies, teething soother, pre-school, childcare, nursery, primary school, nativity play, reading tree, times tables, take to after school activities to assuage the guilt of parents surrounded by parents who take their darlings to after school activities era; closely followed by the senior school choosing, how to cope with teen smoking and booze at parties and the parents who condone said activities and to whose homes all our children flock, GCSE selection era; and finally the impossible to solve maze that is UCAS (university) applications, the dilemma of whether to helicopter- parent one's child to University Open Days ( which now bizarrely cater for visiting parent consumers) or let them sort it out for themselves and the comfortable knowledge having been there that in the long term it is easier and a whole lot safer to let them choose for themselves and watch a little smuggly while other parents make the mistake of pushing their child into a "better" university where they will last a term, tops, before dropping out, or switching to a different course.

  • There is another topic concerning children which should only be embarked upon in the presence of very good friends who share your views on child rearing and that is childhood ambition - NOT the ambition of the child, but the ambition of the parent FOR the child. We all know at least one "tiger" parent and unless we are in the habit of happily receiving exocet missiles, would not dream of criticising their competitive, rudely intense child rearing skills.Some of them will no doubt have successful children - quite probably ones with hang-ups of never being good enough - but others will have kids who at some point crack, rebel and go completely off the rails i.e. the children they have truly spoilt and deserve. Then, there are the children we all really want to hate, but have to admit that we love - the bright, polite, clever, sporty, musical all rounders, who sail through life picking up prizes, win places at the best universities and then either disappear without trace into motherhood, or a career, or the rare ones who against so many odds becomes a  household name - at least two of my children's contemporaries thrill with potential to someday brighten everyone's life; they and many, many others, I am proud to say I have known. But beware discussing this ambition with anyone you do not know well, as you risk sparking petty jealousies and hurting feelings terribly.

  • Pets - I could and have spent many a conversation with near strangers about my Four-legged-friend and their F-l-f, comparing where we walk, bemoaning the dirty refusing-to-pick-up-poo habits of other dog owners, comparing the cost of pet insurance and vets and generally bonding over something we have in common. Just as conversations about nappies and lack of sleep tend to fall flat with the childless, talking about one's pet marks you out as a little mad among the non-animal-loving. So this subject has to be embarked upon with care and with an easy to deploy back up plan. 

  • Cars - this can range wildly from who is driving what car, speculation about how so and so can afford the car he's just bought, the trouble you had the last time you had yours serviced. All wildly boring and best left to the men. Also leave anything about football, golf, rugby, the cost of heating oil, any route anywhere that involves the actual discussion of road numbers or names of roundabouts or distances in point anything of a mile, to the chaps.

  • What you have watched recently on TV - just how good were Maggie Smith and Dan Stevens in Downton Abbey; what you think of Jamie's last minute Christmas tips - yes, I will be trying the home made pork stuffing along with his brilliant mulled wine from last year, the recipe for which is forever stuck inside one of our kitchen cupboard doors; how much you are looking forward to the ab fab return of Ab Fab and Outnumbered!

  • Higgs Boson and all things godly - does the god particle exist. And God ... What does it mean? What might it mean? Are we bothered. How much in awe of Prof  Brian Cox are we? And could I invent some way of bottling his voice and for that matter Liam Neeson's and selling them to people who want warm treacle in their ears when their phone alarm rings?

  • New Year resolutions - this deserves a whole blog to itself. Just imagine the conversational possibilities for now.

  • Dream dinner party guests: what about George Clooney, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Colin Firth, Robert Downey Jnr, Jude Law, Alfie Boe, Jack Black, Prof Cox, Stephen Fry and a bit of Jazz from Hugh Laurie and Michael Buble - think this is a  conversation for the girls?

  • Best film of 2011. Oscar tips for 2012 - Streep as Thatcher (mamma mia! got to see that one!) Have we seen Stephen Fry naked yet? 

  • Who is our favourite comedienne? Where has Miranda gone? Please bring her back, very soon, before I fall over with the strain of waiting.

Or if any of the above seem too controversial, or are met with a wall of stunned silence, you can always rely on the weather. As long as you are talking to another Brit this is the safest bet. Always.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Life as bramble thicket

Life passing in a fairly content fog of gift wrapping (mild panic - omg, have I got enough for everyone; will they like it; have I got the right bridge pads for mother-in-law?); cooking (friends all being extremely helpful with offers of puddings, mains and starters - apart from the big event, may not have to actually cook much at all); decorating (post fire, post building work); planning of meals with friends; entertaining (music recitals already being rehearsed by Littlest and sister); feeding the dog; ordering startlingly expensive turkey; walking the dog; feeding hungry mouths (eating me out of house and home - realise just how significant a role the school catering staff play in their lives); gardening with dog; and shopping (again ...), when unexpectedly hit by devastating question of what mark if any will I leave on the planet (assuming that I want to leave a mark, which I think I do, because there has to be more to life than working hard, otherwise what is the point of anything except satisfying self? And what would be the point of that?)

This thought struck while Four-legged-friend and I were outside this morning venting angst on a hapless bramble thicket (me) and poking our noses down rabbit holes (F-l-f).

I definitely won't be remembered for this - all evidence of labour gone in a mere few months. Even Four-legged-friend recognises the futility of my endeavours - rabbit droppings are far more interesting. And less prickly.

Distressingly, I attacked the same thicket in the spring and here I was again clipping madly at branches at least twice as long as they were before - perhaps the humble bramble is not so humble after all and when pruned responds with defiant exponential growth (could the world economy perhaps be encouraged to do the same: slash and grow, slash and grow) - the relationship between bramble and hedgerow being a bit like me ( the choked shrub beneath the bramble) and the thorn-laden branches (all the irritations, time wasting  but necessary chores of a mother and housewife, missed opportunities, people that get in the way, bore and are rude, jobs that I need to do but put off again and again) What I and all of us need are some shears to slice through the tangled web we weave for ourselves, the thorny branches that clutch at our dreams and ambitions, smothering them and strangling hope out of us.

Of course, this pruning will have to be repeated at regular intervals, maybe once a year - what about New Year's resolutions: which irritation will I remove from my life first? Mmmm.....?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Fairies, pixie dust and another fine mess we've gotten ourselves into.

Out of the mouth of Littlest:

"This is going to sound extreeeeeemly wierd but maybe the fairies use pixie dust and sort of throw it into the sky to make clouds look like Santa's sleigh. Maybe they want us to believe in Father Christmas."

Me: "So do you not believe in father Christmas, then? Do you think it's the fairies who do Christmas?"

Littlest: "NO! Of course I believe in Father Christmas! If the elves exist then of course he does too! And every single member of my family (except me) has seen elves - a hand, a foot, the top of a hat - you know; the ones who visit near Christmas and spy on children to make sure they are behaving themselves."

Oh dear. And we tell them not to lie ...

Felonious kleptosquaters: a plea for help

I have a message for our kleptosquaters - the hidden, uninvited residents of our home, who creep about in the dark helping themselves to odd socks; kitchen scissors; and every working pen or sharpened pencil - why not convert from felonious acts to ones of a more charitable hue?

For example, there are certain irritations I would love someone - other than the usual downtrodden and exhausted, clearing fairy - to deal with:

  • the hair that blocks the shower drain and makes it smell
  •  dog hairs everywhere
  • the long hairs, knotted into elastic hair-ties, that are draped over the edge of the bath (if you don't have long-haired girls, you won't have a clue what I mean!)
  • perhaps one of you could even be enticed to lick up the toothpaste that looks as if the ghost of Jack the Dripper has practised modern art in the sink
  • spiders' webs
  • the detritus of Littlest's latest "making" project - piles of pencil sharpenings, confetti-like bits of paper, sticky ends of sellotape, and glue sticks (never married to their lids)
  • biscuit wrappers
  • loo roll cylinders
  • tangerine/satsuma/mandarin peelings down the side of sofa cushions, on bedside tables, and on the floor and yoghurt pot lids on the desk
  • fairy dust - whose daft idea was that: to give little girls tubes of coloured sand and glitter to scatter all over the house as they make wishes and practice casting spells?

With New Year just around the corner, perhaps your kleptomania could be redirected and I could have a tidier house - all be it one with missing socks.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Bliss is not having to choose between the sticky toffee pudding and the apple crumble and instead being allowed a liberal helping of both. With vanilla ice cream.

Bliss is also finding five minutes in a hectic day of painting kitchen cupboards, supermarket shopping, preparing roast dinner, and the inevitable washing and ironing and other daily motherly duties, to sit at my netbook, wine glass close to hand and write.

Bliss is mostly four, hotly whispered words, while little arms are wrapped around your neck, "I love you too."

But at this time of year there is an extra bliss to observe:

Homemade decorations on the tree

And when the lights are switched on, bliss is the reflection in Littlest's eye

And lastly, bliss is also looking forward to Christmas with children who still believe the magic, not having to work too hard, family all at home and sharing time with friends.

... 5 minutes well and truly spent. Time to get back to chores.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Hard wired to worry

I have a theory, honed during a chilly walk with Four-legged-friend,  that somewhere in the intricate and vastly complex knitting that is the genetic make up of a woman there is a strong consistent thread that carries the code for worry.  In most men, the thread is absent or at least partially deleted.

Why do I think this? - isn't it obvious? Three scenarios to persuade you:

You're invited out to dinner - people you don't know very well, so there has already been some anxiety over which dress to wear, how smart to be - but at the time given on the invitation, your man is still in the bath, or worse, has just decided that he needs to measure the bathroom wall ready for the shelves he plans to put up tomorrow before he gets into the bath. You have already apologised to the babysitter for getting her round too early (this is of course nonsensical, as she doesn't care: you are still here, sorting out your child, and she is being paid for watching you). You have changed shoes twice already and fretted about your earings. And now, he says he has to make a quick phone call before you leave! Should you phone your hosts to warn them you will be late? Should you sulk and glare at your man all evening as he relaxes, ignores you - he didn't appreciate you voicing your worries about being late in the car - and give in to your worry-genes by being up tight and stressed and not enjoying the evening at all, or should you take a leaf out of his book, fail to notice the faint aroma of burnt over dinner and eat, drink and be merry? No ... I'd probably be too worried about giving the wrong impression!

Or consider man and woman, together with their children, on a skiing holiday (and I know I'm not alone in suffering from this particular worry). Man and children career down ski slopes that look like the precipices plunging off mountainous skyscrapers sketched by an artist with a distinctly masculine mean streak, which everyone assures you are 'easy reds' but you know are actually double blacks. There was a day, pre-children, when your knees would have behaved with a little more elasticity than the terrified, frozen rictus that afflicts them now, but the problem is, if you don't get to the bottom of the slope in one piece, then who is going to pick up all the sweaty clothes at the end of the day, hang them up to dry, empty the snow out of boots, feed the children, prepare the packed lunches for tomorrow, stick plasters on blisters and kiss bumps and bruises better, read the bedtime story and find the cuddly pink rabbit that has fallen under the bed? While man sleeps off his exposure to the mountain air and wakes just in time for dinner.

And who but mothers the world over worry about their sons and daughters let loose behind the wheel of a killing machine when they first pass their driving test? Men just see it as an irritation because insurance companies charge such an extortionate amount to cover young drivers, and as a massive convenience because the new driver can now share the taxiing of younger siblings  - which of course just sends mothers' worry into the stratosphere!

So I reckon I have a convincing theory;  should I worry about whether or not you agree? - guess that depends on whether you are man or woman.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Santa stuffed

Love this time of year:

It's the look in their eyes tomorrow morning that does it for me.

Four-legged-friend also stuffed. The look in his eyes is one of confusion; why is there a  red man hanging on the door? And why does he smell of chocolate?
But whatever puzzles him, he is always happy to snuggle up to a hot oven:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Felonious kleptosquaters

A new, invisible kleptomaniac is squatting in our home.

I can picture him, and the other thieves already in residence, stealing out from their various hidey-holes from beneath beds, behind doors, and under chairs, in the middle of the night and tiptoeing to the linen cupboard, where they hunch down in a felonious ring around a lighted candle and plot their next raid.

They believe we don't know they exist, but actually, I know more about them than they would care to think: the one with a penchant for footwear is colour blind, because he only ever steals odd socks; the new one, who is partial to pencils, has toothache, because, if I find any he has hidden, they are invariably chewed; the one who slides half-finished mugs of hot chocolate beneath the children's beds has perennial rhinitis, because only a permanently blocked nose could be oblivious to the awful smell of rancid, sugary milk; and the one who tosses dog biscuits all over the utility room is perhaps a little different - I suspect he has four legs, whiskers, a longish tail, squeaks and answers to the name of 'Mouse!'

Friday, 25 November 2011

Inequality at breakfast

The mum vs. dad balance of early morning duties are a little lop-sided in our house, but I suspect this is nothing unusual. I also suspect that although the mum could be accused of being the creator and perpetuator of this imbalance, she would choose not to alter it. Why? Because the dad wouldn't cope. Brutal, but true.

Take today for example: I got up this morning, reluctantly, after snatching a few extra minutes since the 'getting up' was not for the first time, because Four-legged-friend wanted to go out at ten to five. Woke Littlest - the hot little body tucked into mine, squeezing along the edge of our bed. Came downstairs, after gathering her schooliform and waking Middle Daughter. Put the kettle on. Fed Four-legged-friend and put him out twenty seconds later when food gone. Emptied dishwasher and loaded it with last night's dinner plates. Put a load of washing in machine and switched it on. Made hot chocolates x2. Found Littlest's homework and piano bag. Made Littlest breakfast. Took tea to husband (thought about throwing it at him when he helpfully reminded me of the things I forgot to do yesterday. Didn't, because didn't have time to clear up the mess.) Found hairbrush and hair ties for Littlest. Sent her to brush her teeth. Made husband his lunch. Took Four-legged-friend to run and filled his bowl with fresh water. Ransacked Littlest's room and found scarf and gloves. Had shower, washed hair, got dressed ...dried hair???Don't be silly! Got Littlest into school coat. Rubbish collection day, so put out the bins. Left home for school - remembered to put children in the car first. Forgot to have breakfast myself ...

Husband lay in bed for 10 minutes, ran bath, lay in bath for 20 minutes, drank his tea, dressed and ate his breakfast (crumbs, plate, knife and jam abandoned for the clearing fairy to deal with later) and went to work.

Hmmm ... redress the balance? Probably not.

Deserved the coffee and croissant after 'kiss and drop' outside school? Definitely!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

On sleep

Beset with poorly child who cannot sleep and feeling guilty that I told her I needed to sleep, my guilt is now keeping me awake.

Sleep is a funny thing - we love it, especially in the winter, when we can wrap up warm after a hot bath, and snuggle down under the covers; we hate it when we are too busy to stop, when needing to sleep slows us down and makes us slow and jeopardises deadlines; we appreciate it when a noisy, restless child finally closes his eyes and snores softly; we are grateful for it when we can rest our weary limbs; and without it, we would cease to exist - we need it.

Sleep is fragile - it evaporates if we are afraid, anxious or worried. It is sometimes elusive and although we chase through our memories and thoughts it sometimes hides away too well.

We can do it in funny places - at the cinema, in the dentist's chair, in the classroom, in front of the television, on the beach, and in bed. We can do it lying down, sitting up, slumped on a sofa, but not normally standing up. Famously, some people can get by with very little, or they practice power naps, but others need much more.

Some people talk in their sleep; some masticate (yes! read it carefully - m-a-s-t-i-c-a-t-e - which means they chew and grind their teeth); some snore and some even stop breathing momentarily, which is awfully worrying for their partner lying next to them, who can't sleep because of the snoring.

But the best thing about sleep ... well, hopefully I'm about to find out ... is that when off in the land of nod, you can't procrastinate.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Recipe for a bonfire that is all flame and not much smoke

Bit of a gripe follows - sorry:

First, ensure that you are really, incredibly tired: Littlest couldn't sleep last night, and the result ... I couldn't sleep either. After she appeared bleary-eyed at midnight and chatted til after 1am, we eventually fell asleep, in her single bed, with me wedged against the wall. So multi-yawning fest today...

Next, be irritating. Unintentionally of course, the 'not my fault type', the type that makes you pussy-foot everywhere for fear of irritation escalation. If you succeed, then later in the day, you will be drawn by self-preservation, to the far end of the garden. For as long as possible. Doing something important. Something that has been a source of irritation itself, because weeks have gone by, you've been reminded, many times, and still you haven't got round to doing it, until today. Exemplary timing.

Lastly, in consideration of neighbours and in interests of preventing hedgerow blaze, start fire small, let it get very hot and keep it small. This ensures not too much smoke, lots of flame and an activity that can be prolonged just as long as it takes you and Four-legged-friend to dissect the 'rabbit house'; slowly and responsibly looking for hedgehogs and any other residents of the bonfire heap. (For 'rabbit house' explanation you will have to search previous blogs looking for one where Four-legged-friend is puzzled by human gardening activities with wheel barrow, loppers and the building of piles of garden rubbish - bonfire heap or rabbit house?).

Keep it going - on, and on, and on. Bad for the climate, probably, but good for clearing the head. 

Never too dark for a bone

Stop when you can no longer see what you are doing, when you feel overly smoked, and when a cup of tea beckons ... and if you find that you are still irritating, have a hot bath and something stronger.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Wondrous imaginings of Littlest

Question to Littlest: How does the tooth fairy know that your tooth has fallen out?

"Well ... if you take an x-ray then you'll see right deep inside the tooth there's a tiny message. When the tooth falls out the message is released and flies off to the tooth fairy. She receives it on her phone - hundreds and hundreds of messages every day, round about three thousand - and she scrolls down them to see where she has to go. Then she comes."

Quite simple really.

"Oh, and she makes a special wish, like a spell,  for the child when she collects the tooth - like: I hope your teeth will grow big and strong and that you'll look after them for ever. And depending on how good you have been since you were born that decides how much money you get - if you have been an extremely brilliant girl and made no mistakes in your life then you probably deserve about two pounds!"

I wonder how much the tooth fairy will leave ...

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The almost pansy thief; urgent notification to tooth fairy

Littlest has decided she wants to be a "gardenist" when she grows up, especially if that means she can be an artist, too.

So here is her recipe for a trough of winter-flowering pansies:

First, put on mum's fleece - it's warm; keeps your own clothes clean; and has sleeves long enough to pinch up and use as gardening gloves

Next, place crocks in base of pot. Make face and jump backwards, startling Four-legged-friend, every time a beetle, fly or spider has the impudence to trespass into the pot.

Use elbows, bottom and mum's sleeves to push, shove and slap Four-legged-friend out of the way.

Ask for help when Four-legged-friend decides that compost is second breakfast and eats it as fast as little handfuls can transfer it to the pot.

Then relax into routine of compost filling; hot chocolate; colour based placing of pansies in pot (stripey pattern); scooping out hollows for each plant; hot chocolate; and bedding in with more compost - calm gardenist activity (Four-legged-friend locked inside, after showing too much interest in pansy as salad garnish to have with with compost).

Finally, subject pot to a monsoon. Note fleece changed - "This one matches the plants better."

P.S. Urgent notification to tooth fairy!

Hanging by a thread.

Have hidden recent article in papers about the discrepancies in tooth fairy payments for teeth in the UK. But perhaps she would like to explain herself; after all, Littlest is absolutely convinced she exists. Why are teeth worth an average of £5 per tooth not that far from here and only 5p per tooth in Hull? Littlest's tooth fairy is either very generous, if you are from Hull, or exceedingly mean if compared with more local children.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Things we talk about in the car

As I have mentioned before, we have a very long journey home at the end of the school day and plenty of time, therefore, to talk (which is precisely why I don't mind the length of the journey!)

"There are three words, Mummy, aren't there?" announced Littlest, shortly after I had strapped her into her car seat.

"Well, yes, probably," say I, starting the engine, "but that depends on what three words you are talking about."

"Two of them begin with an 'a'. They're for what you believe in. You know?"

"Eh, Christian, agnostic and atheist?" I hesitate, and correct myself, "It could be any religion, it doesn't have to be Christian."

"Yes! That's right! Do I have to be one of them?"

"No ... do you know what they mean?" She does. And the conversation leaps onto how can you believe in something you can't see, how no-one has ever proved that God actually does exist and, in her own words - what worries her having decided that she is "half way between Christian and agnostic, but a bit nearer to agnostic" - "If I don't believe in God, will he still love me?"

Having spent almost the entire journey veering to and fro along the christian/agnostic gradient, we suddenly found ourselves on a subject where Littlest is most definitely in the camp of believers: the tooth fairy and the urgent notification that wobbliness of the toothy kind is increasing and a visit will soon be required.

What about believing in something you can't see?

"Don't be silly, Mummy! She couldn't leave money under my pillow if she didn't exist, could she?"

Friday, 11 November 2011

Best gift in the world?

Just spent the day trawling through the Christmas catalogues. And binning most of them. What we want and what we need are such different things! Take Four-legged-friend, for example - what he wants is to eat every hour of the day; what he needs is a nutritious meal twice a day. What Littlest wants - really wants - is a pink plastic gizmo that will keep her entertained for just as long as it takes her to realise there are several computers and laptops in the house far more sophisticated  and clever than pink gizmo. What she needs is longer-term and more fulfilling, but I plan to give it to her slowly - metaphorically - and let her unwrap it as she grows.

"When you wish upon a star" ... lovely song (particularly the current rendition by male British artist - you'll have to look it up) and equally lovely sentiment, because what follows is ... "your dreams come true." Wishes and dreams - children make wishes blowing the candles out on a cake, blowing an eyelash off a finger, when they stir the Christmas pudding mix, and they dream about being princesses, or astronauts, or magicians. So my present is tied up with a ribbon of wishes and dreams.

As Littlest gets older, wishes and dreams will (hopefully) become focussed and more realistic and change into ambitions and it will be up to us and her teachers to help her achieve these. So the wrapping paper - coloured with all the riches of a good education and sparkling with the glitter of hope - is ambition.

And inside, is the best gift that a child can ever be given: to believe in themselves.

So to Littlest and my older children, I will endeavour to give a gift of self-belief, wrapped up with all the wishes, dreams, hope, ambition, integrity and love of their childhood.

But metaphorical presents cannot be unwrapped too quickly, and for Littlest, this year, the pink gizmo is not ruled out. Yet!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sore feet

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of sore feet is a very unfortunate person indeed.

My feet are only comfortable when cocooned within memory-foam (bliss!) soled wellies, or cushioned by fitflops (which are somewhat impractical in cold, damp weather). This makes Four-legged-friend happy, because my welly-wearing-going-for-a-walk self is happy. Middle daughter is also happy, because the heels are migrating to her wardrobe. I however remain unhappy and have a dilemma - wellies to a black tie event next week???

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Autumn ramblings

Thought it was about time that Walking the Dog actually lists a blog about walking the dog: so took Four-legged-friend for an autumn ramble this morning.

I love this time of year - the colours, the misty skies, the excuse to wrap up warm, the smell of distant bonfires, the feeling that you can pull up the drawbridge and retreat into the warmth and comfort of your home, the promise of Christmas and the sparkle it puts in a child's eyes, and the hearty, healthy foods of a winter kitchen.

Four-legged-friend seemed to be quite appreciative of it too -

water in the stream again;

scent of hare (the one that raced past us like a fleeting wood sprite, briefly glanced just long enough to tell it was hare not rabbit);

and his personal favourite - harvest spilt all over the ground.

And of course, given that it was at least an hour since he had been fed and he was obviously completely starving, much of the harvest was harvested!


Curmudgeonly - another brilliant word. And one that the Blogger dictionary appears to recognise!

Try rolling your lips round this one - currr-mudge-onleee - and you'll find it quite Edmund Blackadderish. Like discom-bob-ulate, yesterday.

I use curmudgeon, or curmudgeonly, a lot. Secretly; inside my head. It's so much better than annoying, irritating, sarcastic, illogical, contrary ... or male!

Monday, 7 November 2011


Littlest is planning to try this out on her teacher tomorrow - "Miss -----, I'm feeling a bit discombobulated!" She loves funny sounding words and is blessed with a brain like a sponge that allows her to remember and manipulate her lips round them. And she finds it funny, which stops it being too precocious. Hopefully her teacher will have better luck with the word than the Blogger dictionary, which failed to recognise it. It also doesn't recognise itself!!!!! - "Blogger" gets a wobbly red line too!!

You could say that the Blogger dictionary finds itself somewhat discombobulating.

Go on - say it out loud - dis-com-bob-u-lating - if you emphasize the bob and exaggerate the articulation, you'll look and feel just like Edmund Blackadder!

Difficult for dogs: part 3

Eating sushi slowly

Difficult for dogs: part 2

Understanding the human/cat relationship

Difficult for dogs: decisions, empty bowls and decorating

Many things are difficult for dogs, but some are more difficult than others:


Which one first? The white fluffiest one would be the easiest to mess up a bit, but, on second thoughts the blue alien (Snitch? Glitch? Or perhaps, Stitch?) looks a tougher challenge - better stuffed, therefore more to get my teeth into. Or maybe, I could toy with the wee Scottish sheep first; as an aperitif? The grey dog looks a bit too sad, so I'd probably leave him alone. Too much choice: where decisions don't involve (proper) food, they are really difficult for a dog ...

And after a spot of soft toy tossing, the last thing a dog wants to find is this -

Soft toys give a dog a terrible thirst - all the dust and fluff and clumps of spongy stuffing. And the sink taps are much too difficult for a dog.

But in my opinion, far worse than difficult choices and empty bowls, is the disruption in my sleeping, warming, treat stealing, floor-crumb-scavenging, foot nibbling, body leaning room.

The room where I do all of those easy things smells funny and is covered in sheets that slip around on the floor and dangle down from the table and chairs. So all the easy things that I normally do every day are now really difficult - I can't sleep, because whenever I try I get nudged, then shoved, then shouted at; I can't warm myself by the Aga, because it's disappeared under another sheet; I can't steal any treats, because there aren't any on offer and no-one has eaten in here today, so there aren't any crumbs; there aren't any people, with feet for nibbling either, because if they come in, they get nudged, then shoved and then shouted at, too - something about paint that mustn't be spilt. 

Except it has been spilt - all over the walls!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A day of CPD, meatballs and homecomings

Warning received at work, yesterday, that I was due to see, today, and have to deal with a problem that I have less than limited experience of managing. While being extremely grateful to colleague who alerted me to this, I am embarrassed to admit that it threw me into a single-minded panic: single-minded, in that I thought about little else until I had found the references I needed, sat down and restored my lost knowledge. Do others get thrown into similar fugs of despair, plummeting confidence and I've-got-to-find-something-else-to-do panics? I hope they do, because if it's just me, then ... well, that is rather depressing. And distressing. CPD (as in the title of the blog) refers to Continuous Professional Development, something I have to do rather a lot of and prove that I have done, in order to fulfil the constraints governing the continuity of my professional role. Me, who would far rather be outside walking the dog, or gardening, or doing something with my kids, or writing, or blogging for that matter, or doing anything that doesn't involve work. Me, who at this time of year when date for proof of CPD looms bright on the horizon,  is forced to become fastidious and swot and make notes about my swotting. Who reluctantly acknowledges that in cases such as today's, it makes the difference between incompetence and doing my job, if not well, then at least safely. Satisfaction!!! Never!! But maybe, if sometimes I slightly enjoy my job, there is perhaps a chance that I can continue to do it for the next dozen or so years (at least until the children have stopped being quite so expensive). Please tell me I am not the only person to feel like this ...

Meatballs - simple supper after work: oven proof dish, drizzled with olive oil. Toss in meatballs and sliced red onion and diced red pepper. Add tin of chopped tomatoes, a good spoonful of mixed Italian herbs and a glass of red wine (rioja tonight, but any red would probably do - keep the rest to drink later). Cover with foil and bake in oven at 180deg for about 30 to 40 mins, or until meatballs cooked. Good with pasta and shavings of parmesan. And remaining red wine!

Homecomings? Long-legged-boy flew back, with his bags, but fewer clothes, from Mumbai. Four-legged-friend and sisters displayed much wagging of tails, bouncing and whoops of joy to see him; tales of the sights and smells of poverty humbling, but we all grow through the experiences of others, and my white, British , middle-class lad has witnessed things he will never forget.

Sleep now needed, but first Littlest wanted me to notify the Tooth Fairy that Lady Penelope's car should have it's engine warmed, as she has a tooth in imminent danger of falling out ...

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Littlest's creations

These are "farm fairies"

They have an elephant, a caterpillar and two cats on their farm.

Their names are Zara and Issy.

Tomorrow, Littlest plans to make them a house.

Shadow picture - Four-legged-friend

Helping in the garden

King for a week definitely over and back to the usual bottom of the heap in the family pecking order. Note fed-up expression ...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Out of the mouth of Littlest

Little people are blessed with many gifts, but one of the best of these is the ability, without guilt or embarrassment, to tell it like it is.

Our diminished family of girls visited a castle yesterday. The man at the entrance asked, "One adult, three children?" Then looking a bit closer at Eldest, corrected his tally to two adults, two children.

Later, we debated whether Eldest was flattered or annoyed to be considered a child. And I said, "If he had called me a child, that would have been extremely flattering!"

Littlest looked me up and down, with a puzzled frown that clearly said what planet are you on mother, before stating, "But he wouldn't, would he?"

The pile of hands game

Boys banished to the far ends of the earth - New Zealand, India ... and kennels. Girls left to do things together:


But we do miss the chaps. Honest!

Shadow picture - Girls on Bangor pier

Me and my girls (and a blue post)

Shadow picture - Littlest

Littlest scootering

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Wonderful words

Just returned from North Wales with an idea for a new blog topic (new for me; suspect it has probably been done before): wonderful words, words that are remarkable in their noteworthy onomatopoeic strangeness. While I am sure there are examples in most languages where modern life necessitates the invention of new words, in Wales this happened with the microwave. What do you do with a microwave oven? - pop the food in and wait for the ping. So, guess what it's called?

I actually have no idea how it is spelt - probably as it is Welsh, with a bucket load of consonants - but phonetically the word is pop-tee-ping. Brilliant!

I wonder what the machine-that-goes-ping in hospitals is called - cheattee-death-ping, resus-me-ping, heartee-ping ... ?

Friday, 28 October 2011

King for a week: part 5

Damn it!

I knew I'd heard someone say something about kennels. I should have guessed! Littlest spent all morning packing, which meant moving her collection of furry, but pretend, rabbits, from one room to another,until she found a bag big enough to hold them all (what's the point of a pretend rabbit? - I wish I could tell her, 'If it can't hop, it can't be chased, so it ain't worth it. And a mouthful of rabbity fur is no fun if it can't wriggle - don't tell Littlest, but I've tried). Then, Mum came home all in a flap with "far too much to do." The signs were all there, but no-one had the courtesy to tell me. It's like telling someone they are going to the Dentist, only when you arrive at the dentist's front door: not fair, not fair at all. Luckily for Mum, I didn't have to pack anything.

Sadly, at the end of my week's reign, I was just beginning to get everyone - all my girls -  into a routine. Food, lazing around, sleeping, more food, sniff  around outside (real rabbits; real rabbit droppings - furry ones are just constipated with stuffing, which is not yummy at all! and tends to explode out if you worry them a bit), eat again and discover new places to sleep (mainly at or under the girls' feet and as near as possible to any food they were eating; that is a particularly favourite sleep of mine - the one where you look totally comatose and perhaps dribble a bit for extra effect, but all the tine have one eye just open a slit, focused on whatever tasty morsel might be abandoned in my reach; I am the king of wishful thinking).

I won't get a chance to be king at the kennels - "Young Upstart!" more like!  

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The midnight meanderings of a procrastinating procrastinator

I am completely useless - at going to bed early; at filling bean bags with polystyrene beads (snow of tiny balls all over the kitchen floor); at windsurfing - can't do it, therefore won't do it; at remembering people's names; at remembering where I put the amazing recipe I want to cook now or tomorrow or next week; at recalling the names of plants; at catching up with paperwork - it's boring, so frustrating, so put it off, so more frustrating, so tidy it away into a different room, so face accusations of hiding it, so frustration levels reach a climax, so do it, so wonder in frustration why didn't do it earlier, so resolve to do so the next time, and don't, so frustration recycles ... perpetually. And when full of the cold even simple decisions become pretty impossible

Apple, lemon or orange? Sacrilegious toddy part 2.

And you're no help

Or are you hinting that I'll end up on the floor if I have a toddy?

Two nights in a row (toddy, not floor!) ... habit forming? No. Medicinal? Yes.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Hot toddy sacrilege?

A Scot who doesn't like whiskey, who has a stinking cold, who wants to sleep, who has a very sweet tooth, who has failed so far to find/invent a cure to to common cold, who despairs of her failure to walk Four-legged-friend yet again, who is working far too much this half term, who can't wait for the weekend  ... who needs to go to bed and fancies a wee something - a night cap - but can't face the usual whiskey (eurgh), honey (noooo) and lemon (=indigestion) has a new recipe to share.

Try this. It's naughty, smells medicinal (in a good way) and is really scrummy.

Take a big mug (porcelain, not husband). Boil the kettle. Find some hot chocolate powder - the better the chocolate powder the better the drink.

Pour a generous finger of Cointreau into your mug. Add the chocolate powder, then top up with boiling water and hot milk. Take to bed, sip, slide down the pillows, dream (and worry about your teeth in the morning). Sacrilegious? I think not.

Good night

King for a week: part 4

A day of kingly demandingness? (see King for a week: part 3)

First, I demanded a walk, but Mum was either out somewhere - twice! - (I think she called it work, but I don't know why she has to go out to do that, because I could find plenty of work for her to do here), or she was still all sneezy, so I sulked a bit and went outside, where I put my helpful hat on

Mum (home for her lunch break) put the leaves in the bucket - I nuzzled in between her and the brush and her legs, and ate some (leaves, not legs), and pulled a twig out of the bucket which sprinkled (only a few) leaves all over the ground, and caught a beetle. She hinted that I was unhelping, but I was checking on her mental health. This was most definitely necessary after she said she had to sweep up some helicopters:

I know she has been feverish, but when she said the helicopters were really baby-trees-in-disguise, it was me that had the headache. Bones were a safer option

In conclusion, as a day of regal demands, it was a complete failure. We are not amused!

And so to the evening and Mum's at it again - keeping me awake! There's a  variation on the theme of last night - this time her spluttering explosions are oddly out of time with some music called my lotto or mylko zylko ... or perhaps mylo xyloto (it's brilliant, apparently, but I'm just a dog, so what would I know?)

King for a week: part 3

How do I lodge a complaint? - I'm the only male in the house; in charge for a whole week, with three girls to feed, pamper and walk me ... and that's the point: what happened to the walks?

Mum looks decidedly peaky; her nose is dripping and she keeps doing loud spluttering explosions - in other words, she not only fails to take me for walks, but also - right now! - prevents me from sleeping. Imagine that - preventing someone from sleeping; I'd never do anything so selfish! (see King for a week: part 2)

Maybe, I'll take myself for a walk tomorrow? Hmmm - haven't figured out the gates yet, so could find myself trapped in the garden. Plan B? - don't have one of those, but surely a king can demand a plan B from his loyal subjects.

So tomorrow, watch out girls, I'll be more demanding than usual.

P.S. What's a hot toddy? Smells weirdly soporific, or is it a cure for sneezing?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

King for a week: part 2

You know all this 'being the only man in the house' stuff - the big strong brave one who protects the rest of the family? Well, I thought I'd get off to a good start last night; let any potential burglars know I'm here.

So I yelped, whined ... and barked! ... from the time that mum went to bed until 5.30am. I thought I was doing a really good job. Strangely, though, mum didn't.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

King for a week

Dad and long-legged-boy have packed bags and flown away.

"Flown!" - how did they do that? Close examination of long-legged-boy before he left did not reveal any erupting wings. But flying is what he said he was going to do, so who am I to argue?Although, if I had been about to attempt air travel, I would have taken a lighter bag; no point helping gravity to make it more difficult.

So, for eight days, I am the only chap in the house.

Do you think I might get away with doing this all week?

Mum's pretty tolerant; I reckon I might be lucky. 

But did someone mention kennels?

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Mum and I got lost this morning.

Yes! Completely stuck without a compass and walking in the wrong direction. And we were only ten minutes from home. Bit of a silly idea to go for a walk if you ask me, but then, I wasn't asked. When we stepped out of the back door and found a blanket of white resting on the ground - Mum said it was called fog - that should have been her queue to return me to my warm spot next to the Aga. But no, on we went, into the familiarish unknown - I mean it smelt the same, but this time it wasn't only the footpaths that had disappeared, but the trees, the sky, the sun and the rabbits (I could hear them, but not see them - which was really frustrating; at least if I can see them, I can choose to ignore them, when I can only hear them, their rustling startles me and then it looks really uncool if I don't act like a dog and chase them, except I can't see them, so it's difficult knowing where to chase).

So we were lost:

Which way's home, Mum?

Then we found the stile

But after this we hit 360degrees of nothingness...

And after turning through 360 degrees neither of us knew where we were. So we blundered on for a bit - like a game of blind-man's-bluff, but with the fog wrapped round our heads instead of a scarf.

Suddenly we could see again

This was a bit of a surprise: not where we thought we were at all. Parallel dimension? No, parallel field and not a footpath in sight, but then there wouldn't be, as there isn't meant to be one here. Oops!

But even more of a surprise ...

Where had home gone?