Monday, 29 October 2012

The dark side

It is precisely at this moment that I consider it winter. The clocks have done their thing, central heating is on a timer, logs have been ordered for the wood burner and our wardrobes have jumpers at the top and flip flops chucked untidily to the back - where they will stay for what seems a very long time. We have moved over to the dark side. The garden is soggy. The new spring bulbs lay dry in their packets, unopened, and I am struggling to get the motivation to work the cold sodden earth so as to enjoy a colourful display come March. It's hard to imagine that spring will ever be upon us again.

I hate the winter. I know that's a strong statement, but really, I do. And it feels especially cruel this year due to our useless excuse for a summer. The seasons are blurring.

One year we avoided the dark side completely. Before children and careers, he and I moved to Spain. Possibly for a month, maybe indefinitely -  we stayed for over a year. We decided on Seville in the south, a beautiful, conservative city known for its excellent tapas, wonderful ferias, the best Semana Santa (Easter) full of tradition, wonder and pretty much sun year-round. We arrived in November with a rucksack and a phrase book, straight off the bus and into a hustling, bustling tapas bar - running to avoid the downpour. It seemed we couldn't escape the weather completely. Inside the condensation ran down the windows, most people standing, around barrels or along the long bar, ordering small plates of local delicacies washed down with respectable sized glasses of wine and wee halves of beer.

After that first night, I only remember sun. Hot sun, medium sun, really bloody freezing cold - but sun. It was the brightness that kept us happy for over a year, everyday you could sit outside and 'tomar algo' (take something to eat or drink), everyday was a sunglasses day and a people watching day, we were on the beach in March and we left it in October.

A much more civilised way of being.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Dressing up

I have just sent the Cat in the Hat and Katie Morag to school. When they arrived in the playground who should be there but Harry Potter ( x5), Winnie the Witch, Jeremy Fisher, Ben 10, Pippy Longstocking and even a fantastic Fantastic Mr Fox. Today was dress-as your-favourite-book-character day and the children loved it.

What is it about dressing up? Kids adore it, a chance to be make-believe and especially at our house, we have a fairly good selection of tails, ears, wands, fire fighter jackets, tutu's, sparkly shoes and masks. When a child comes for tea they are down to their pants within seconds and the whole dressing up box is strewn all over the bedroom floor.

Adults love it too, look at Pirate day in July where 15, 000 pirates descended on Hastings.Young, old and even animal pirates all took the role very seriously arrrrrring as often as they could get away with. And you should have seen the 5000 zombies in Brighton, hilarious and utterly terrifying, creative and incredible. A predictably hid herself in my coat peeping through occasionally and had nightmares that night, while P squealed with delight and horror, the more gory the better.

This month we have two occasions to be someone else. A 'historical figures' 40th party - I cant tell you who he is going as, other than to say it is quite brilliant, but who am I?

....and I am considering releasing my inner tart and going as Adriana for a Soprano's dinner party.


With Halloween around the corner, the shops are busy selling face paints, cobwebs, fake blood and the supermarkets encouraging BOGOF on the pumpkins - love it or hate it, the USA has sent us their big tradition of getting dressed up for Halloween. 

Bring it on we say in our house.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

I fell off

OK it wasn't quite as dramatic as this...but it bloody felt like it.

I ride other peoples horses for them, when they are too busy or they can't because they broke a wrist from falling off a horse. It's totally mental this addiction to horses, their crazy and unpredictable ways are not something most people are attracted to. But the ones who do like horses say it is like a disease, it doesn't leave you - it's in your blood.

So I got bucked off today. I sat the first one quite well although I was a little dislodged. She was spooked by all the noise and tractors working next to the sand school and the mare I was on leapt in the air, kicked her back legs out and on the third and final buck I hit the ground. There is this moment when you know you are going to fall off and it feels like you are in slow-motion before the thud of the ribs on hard wet sand, and a clonk of the riding hat that you are so very grateful for. 

So what did I do? Got straight back on of course!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Ode to the Astra

We got a new car last week. I am very unbothered by cars, as long as they work then that's all I'm after. Our Vauxhall Astra 1.6, a 16 valve variety, finally decided not to work any more. Well it did work but occasionally bunny-hopped down the road, emitted thick black smoke when you started it, drank 5 litres of oil a week and passed out when it felt like it, but it still worked. I had to admit defeat though, when the garage told me how much it was going to cost to fix it. One of it's 16 fabulous valves had gone, broken, and it was more than the car was worth to mend.

So we bought a new Astra, exactly the same make, model and colour even. I know where I am with an Astra, safe, reliable, very un-sexy and plenty of room to shove allotment gear and riding boots, tents, cat baskets and suitcases.

On Friday I went to pick up the new Astra in all its shining and valeted glory, leaving the old one behind. And as it sat in the garage forecourt, me betraying it with a younger model, I felt a little lump in the back of my throat. Oh Astra, we had been together for over 8 years, all that we shared played out in my mind on the way home - as I heaved from the new-car smell and screamed at the kids not to make a mess.

Astra, you lived with us in London and took me shopping every week to the supermarket, that was about it in those days, occasionally having a spin down the M4 to see my mum. I scratched you good and proper in the first week of owning you, bought the paint to cover the marks but never got round to it. You brought A home from hospital, I sat in the back tense and worried at the wobbliness of her little newborn head. You took us to France, twice, loaded to the max, happy to travel on the other side of the road. You have been stuck in the mud at festivals, blew your radiator in the snow but still got us home safely, you popped a tyre twice, failed to start a number of times on cold frosty mornings. Remember that time when you killed a deer and I had to remove its tail from the air conditioning unit?

You put up with his incessant house music, the children's mess and crumbs, my shit-strewn boots and even managed to hit 90 when we were in a rush to get home. I never treated you to a wax and a polish, but that didn't mean we didn't love you.

I hope you don't get crushed straight away, 120 000 miles is no age for a car.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


I have this ring, it is large with a dark red stone and made out of sterling silver. You know, the sort you might buy down Camden Market for a fiver. I didn't get it from a market however, I bought it in India 13 years ago, from a couple selling their wares on the side of the road near Manali. I liked it, I didn't love it, and after the trip where I was hoping to find myself - I didn't - the ring was designated to the drawer and lived a life among trinkets and beads from far corners of the earth. They must have had plenty to talk about.

About a year ago I was rifling through old jewellery bits, ankle chains and belly chains, beads home-made from Fimo, tarnished silver and tangled necklaces, when I came across my large red ring. I put it on my middle finger, next to my wedding band, and there it stayed. I didn't like it any more than before, I didn't love it, it didn't remind me of India but there it stayed. Too big to ride horses in, too cumbersome to garden in and enormous to swim in - but it survived all three pursuits.

I had a few comments on the ring, mostly from hippy types. Only a few weeks ago someone told me it was a  so-and-so stone (sorry, I really can't remember) and it was the stone you wear when you need grounding. I looked at the ring and thought, "Ha, well there you go, may be I needed grounding this last year."

And then a few nights ago it fell off, just like that, while I was eating a bowl of pasta. My 13 year old ring decided to un-ground me. And now I'm all a jitter.

So if my ring is not going to keep me grounded from now on then I guess I'd better do it myself - but I'm tempted to get it mended, just in case.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Here comes the sun

Celebrating sunrise - George Harrison on repeat as we watch the dawning of a very beautiful day in Sussex.

Sussex sunrise

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Love bombing

I did some love bombing today - and it was really fun. You should give it a go. A responded amazingly and I can't wait to do it again.

I'd read about 'love bombing' a while back in The Guardian and thought it a really interesting concept. The idea of showering your child with love, allowing them to sleep with you, saying 'yes' as much as you can and letting them decide what you do, is an initially odd concept to deal with children that are playing up at home.

Yesterday A had an almighty meltdown. Yes, she was tired. Yes, she was grumpy. But as she sobbed to herself in bed there was a searching look in her eyes, it almost said "I didn't mean to do that, I didn't mean to hit P, I didn't mean to squeal and shout and moan at every request." She genuinely couldn't help it.

I thought I'd try the 'love bombing' condensed style today. Oliver James suggests that with children that are disrespectful, sometimes violent to their siblings and need constant nagging that you could do the following:

1. Take the child away from the rest of the family for a weekend, two nights.

2. Tell the child repeatedly that you love them, making sure to hug them and look them in the eyes for long periods.

3. Sleep with them in your bed at nights, during the day tell them that this is their special time and that you will do whatever they want.

4. On return to normal life, create a 30 minute slot each evening with a label they have chosen, like 'mummy time', in which you repeat the same formula in condensed form.

We set aside 2 hours of special time in which A chose what we did. She chose what we ate and how long we spent there. I, in turn, did not look at my phone once. I tried to say 'yes' as much as possible and listened to what she was saying. I noticed that she is silent and brooding and day-dreaming for a lot of the time. I asked her what she was thinking and how she was feeling. I didn't nag, or boss or shout. I noticed that she is quite a fiddler and a fidget. She is always using her hands for something, makes a huge mess with her food and not because she is naughty, but because she is day-dreaming and fiddling as she eats.

I learnt about my lovely A today. I learnt about myself as well. I too am distracted by my everyday life and perhaps don't fully interact and listen to her as I should.

Love bombing has done us the world of good. A hugged me completely off her own back today, she never does that, usually turning a cheek as I kiss her goodnight.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Protecting my young

A is a sweet girl, you know that, I've told you often enough. She is kind and sensitive, she thinks about others feelings and she is maternal and caring. I'm sure she is not like this all the time, I grant you, but this is the A I almost always see. So when other children are being mean to her at school it switches on my very primal instinct to protect her. She in turn protects me, by not letting me know what goes on. She would rather keep things to herself  than see me turn into a wild animal who would like to maim the attacker. Fair play, it's not nice seeing your mum upset.

We've had an ongoing situation with her friendships, mainly A being walked all over and made to feel bad when she can't dance like the others or do a maths problem straight away. I find out from other mothers that A is having a hard time. It makes me feel so sick with anger that I have to restrain myself. But I can't fight my little girl's battles, she has to learn to stick up for herself, to be strong and walk away, to form new friendships, to not tell the teacher over the smallest issue and to know when girly meanness is downright bullying. That's a tough call for a 6 year old. It's a tough call for a parent as well.

I would like to take her under my wing and protect her from this bitchy and horrible place. I would like to shield her from the meanies and the show-offs and the queen bee's. I would like her to be able to share her woes and for us to talk about a sensible solution - but then that would be me telling her what to do. I don't want to do that. I want her to work it out for herself, to learn from mistakes and to realise that others may not be as kind hearted as herself.

I want her to always know that I am here for her to take shelter, to love and protect her and that I will try  to send her out as a confident young girl who will be able to cope with the next battle life throws at her.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Sunday nights and grey Monday mornings

The weekend is over. I slept easy knowing that the children had one decent meal yesterday, they had clean sheets, washed and conditioned hair, packed lunch boxes, swimming kit sorted and homework completed. The Sunday night ordeal was over before the hideousness that is Monday morning.

Monday greeted me with the cat who pee'd out of it's litter tray - on purpose. P has not stopped whining over important issues like blobs at the end of her tights, slippers whose velcro doesn't work and I'm already tired from her waking me up three times because her bed was messy. It wasn't. A has this cough which is small and dry and constant. And irritating. Oh Monday mornings, it's not your fault, or the children's - it is mine.

Looking out of the window, across the patchwork-quilt fields and rolling hills I have taken a moment to lose myself in nature - from the relative warmth of the indoors. A slice of bright neon sun emerged in between the heavy clouds. A gaggle of geese flew across my path, necks out-stretched keen to arrive at their destination. The borage is still a vivid blue, providing a splash of colour in an otherwise weedy garden. For a moment I forgot about the jobs, the mundane and the routine.

Thank you world for waking up today, and for me and my children waking up too. I am going to seize you Monday-morning and squeeze all the joy out of you, because I know you have some - somewhere.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Poem to Arabella

Child of light
skipping down the eggshell path
of your butterfly years

yellow tendrils
skying wild behind you
swept back by your delight

a flower about to open
about to gladden the world
petal by milky petal

gather me a daisy chain
made from your joy
to wear in my winter

when the glow of now
pales to the far scent
of fragile frost

Arabella of the marigold ways
running across deep October fields
drowning me in pollen

of your madcap years
making pain seem solace
all child and sudden wisdom

amazing me.

Adapted from a poem by Christy Brown

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

It's all-white round here

Sussex has many qualities, it really does. Pretty countryside, small schools with well behaved children, farm shops, forests but with a healthy dose of Chelsea tractors and Cath Kidston bags to boot. For the lack of housing and population why is it so suffocating? Sometimes I feel I can't breathe in Sussex and I need to escape to London to find anonymity, cultures and different colour people. You see, around these parts, we are all the same. All part of one homogeneous gloop -  white, middle-class, educated and I can take a good guess who the majority of people vote for.

We used to live in Brixton, he would say Stockwell. Lets say it was between the two; Brixton being where we shopped, ate, drank and Stockwell where we got on the tube. I miss the Portuguese deli's and their little custard tarts and the manic bustle whatever time of day or night. I miss the opportunist trying to sell me some skunk as I wheeled my daughter in her pushchair. I miss the dude who sells josticks and the woman who shakes a tin trying to sell her crappy child-like drawings. The markets were full of strange fruit, colourful fabrics, smells to make you gag and the odd pigs head or a bag of chicken's feet. And the craziest of hot scotch bonnet chilli peppers. I really do miss all that.

It's sad that my children do not have a large diversity of people to make friends with. That all their food comes delivered from the Sainsbury's shopping man, it's sad that only one religion is learnt about and that if they see a woman wearing a sari they have to point it out as different.

But I guess I can't have it all - I did choose to live here.