Thursday, 19 July 2007

Ranting (but not about packing)

I need a rant. I am seething. I’m not sure what is making me more cross, perhaps writing it down will help me decide. Here goes.

We’ve been waiting for the new company car for months and we were finally notified that we could have it the day before our holiday - that’s today – provided the old one was in good shape for exchange. The new one has double the boot space so Nobby in particular was delighted that he would be able to bring his golf clubs along on holiday without having to leave one of the children behind to fit them in the car. So first we had to get the dents on the Volvo fixed following our minor incidents with those gates (ahem). So that was all done last week and we have been driving extra carefully ever since. I mean, I have honestly never had such bad luck with any other car - gateposts and gates seem to jump out at it, other cars are almost magnetically attracted to it, it’s even been hit by a cyclist. And I always thought Volvos were meant to be tough but even the bike managed to smash a hole in a rear light and you only have brush it against something to crumple in the bodywork and make the paint fall off. Perhaps it’s jinxed, although judging by the state of everyone else’s car in and around Paris it could be something to do with the quality of driving in France, I dunno, I’d hate to bitch about the French (!) (Mind you, Rose had to park her car on the street for a few hours while they were digging up the road the other week and when her hubby came home from work the first thing he asked is ‘what have you done to the car?’, having spotted the family vehicle on the road sporting a huge fresh dent on the boot that wasn’t there when she parked it. Nice.)

With only 2 journeys to go before handover I carefully parked the Volvo yesterday morning in a little side road off a quiet village road opposite a friend’s house while we had lunch with her. And when we returned to the car after lunch – ta-da!! There was a dirty great gouge on the corner of the front bumper and a huge scratch on the wheel arch where some moron who clearly thought they were driving a tank had just ploughed on through. I mean, how hard is it to get your car down a road without touching the sides? Does this person also have trouble getting themselves through doorways without stripping off the paint with their shoulders? Do they walk down the street bouncing off the sides like a pin-ball? Maybe it was a woman who’s been brainwashed by their man into believing that 4 inches is actually 8. Or a man who’s been convinced that 32AA is 38DD. All I know is that I was stomping mad and this is not a place where someone who dings your car will feel enough remorse to stop and put their details on your windscreen (although I doubt that happens so much in England either). So it now hangs in the balance as to whether we will be able to exchange the car today so I am going to have to spend the day with my fingers and toes crossed that the bureaucrat they send to examine it isn’t a total jobs-worth or at least appreciates the male need for golf whilst on holiday.

Phew, I feel a bit better for getting that off my chest. I should have done it last night so I wasn’t stewing in my bed till 3 in the morning but there was the small matter of the children not settling until about 11 o’clock. Like many a small person, they have taken umbridge at the fact that they are currently expected to go to bed before the sun. And all the black-out curtains in the world aren’t going to fool them because they only have to get up to the loo or pop in to check if their sibling has gone to sleep yet (and be sure and wake them up if they have) to see that it’s still light outside at 10pm. I guess my clever idea to acclimatise them to sleeping in the same room together in preparation for their holiday hasn’t really helped either. It’s quite amazing how many personal possessions they suddenly need with them when you tell them they are sleeping somewhere else when they only need one favourite teddy in their own bed. It’s like some primal territory-marking. I set up the futon in the spare room and suddenly half the toys out of each bedroom had been transported in there to form an entourage around it. And then the messing about starts as each toy needs to be tucked in and read to. I just had to give up and leave them to it or I’d never sit down all evening. Me and my big ideas.

Oh and I’m in trouble with Nobby again. After he got miffed about me not making it clear that he took a day off work to take me out, he then got miffed that my addendum described him as a critic, when all he’s done up to that point is complement my writings. So please may I point out that I meant ‘critic’ in the sense of reviewer rather than detractor and publicly thank him for being so supportive of my exposing the intimate details of our lives on the World Wide Web (!). He’s not so encouraging about the time of day I generally get round to writing, though, as it tends to be very late at night when I have the house - and the computer - to myself. I’ve woken him up several times by crawling into bed at 1am. But what he probably doesn’t realise is that I only ever get full uninterrupted use of my Mummy-brain when all other family members are asleep. It isn’t even that they aren’t begging me to let them on the computer (Pickle) or telling me to draw princesses for them (Poppet) or asking me whether the car was really damaged by a third party and not my dodgy driving (Nobby, cheeky beggar). During daylight my head is not my own, what with constantly wondering what the kids are doing, especially if they’re out of sight and I can’t hear them, planning when to try and get some food inside them, deciding whether to draw the princess with long or short hair, working out how to get Sonic to level 3, etc, etc to say nothing of getting through the daily list of cooking, tidying, cleaning, mending, fetching, carrying, reading, wiping, playing, praising, berating, yelling… See, it’s only after bedtime I can switch off from everyone else and think about my own stuff. Just for a change I got up before the kids today to try to get my rant done in peace because I was updating my I-Pod until 1am instead last night. Unfortunately the brats got up about half an hour ago so my progress has slowed significantly while I get them breakfast and try to ignore the Tweenies finding out how cheese is made on the TV. Ugh. Sorry Nobby, it just can’t be done!

But I will take this opportunity to apologise to him for leaving the car running on fumes for its final journey to the office. Well you did say to send it back empty given that it’s been nothing but trouble these past 3 years. Perhaps I should have left a tiny bit in so that you didn’t have to stop off at the garage on the way in to ensure that the bloke who collects it can get back. The bloke we are now hoping will ignore the new dent and actually take it away. Oops. Sorry! (grovel). I think I’ll stop typing now and get on with crossing my fingers and toes. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Still Packing…

I wish I could report that all the holiday packing is done and we are ready to rock-and-roll in two sleeps’ time. But it would be a total lie. Admittedly there are a few more things gathered than 2 days ago but I still haven’t tackled the clothes situation, there is washing hanging up all around the house because I broke the rotor dryer at the weekend so it’s looking a bit desperate. I decided to take refuge in the park yesterday – we made a lovely village in the sandpit – and today we are going to meet a friend for lunch which I may be able to stretch to the whole day with a trip to the shops on the way home. Am I in denial do you think? Nobby has an interesting solution though. He is taking the car away tomorrow. He does have a legitimate reason in that he’s going to swap it for a spangly new Ford MPV which has finally arrived after a 4 month wait (hurrah!!) but we will be trapped here and I will be obliged to pack. Ugh. I have a new strategy of my own though. Since we are going to the UK I reckon that it doesn’t really matter if I forget anything as we can go shopping. Usually I loathe shopping but after being starved of M&S and Boots for 3 years I go a bit like a kid in a sweet shop if you let me loose in an English shopping centre. The first time it happened the bank were so shocked by the sudden spending on my Switch card that they froze the account and called me up to check I still had my card. It was very nice of them and all but since it left me standing at the petrol station with no way to pay and a big sign telling me I couldn’t use my mobile to telephone the bank I did sort of wish they’d called first and cancelled after.

So in theory if I warn the bank that there is going to be a major spend going on then I needn’t pack anything except the passports. Ooh, I like it.

Poppet is still upstaging me in the packing stakes. She arrived downstairs this morning with a load more things she says she’ll need. I’m not really sure about the woolly tights and the shoes that are 2 sizes too small but I am prepared to humour her. Besides I don’t want to rattle her cage too much as I think I may have pulled off a major coup regarding her ‘dou-dou’, Rosie the Rabbit. She was given Rosie when she was a baby and out of all the hundreds of other toys this became the chosen one; the ‘I can’t go anywhere without it’ companion. It’s a lovely soft stripy material and supposedly machine washable. Hmm, don’t believe the hype, people. After 4 washes it was looking distinctly flimsy and all the stuffing was bunching together. But could we persuade Poppet to choose another soft toy so that Rosie could get some rest? Er, no, and I strongly advise against arguing with a possessive 2 year old about what would make a more practical dou-dou. Then the holes started to appear, which just made her love Rosie more and severely tested my sewing skills. We nearly lost Rosie a couple of times after the move to France; she was left in Toys R Us and the DIY superstore so I quickly had to learn the French for ‘pink, stripy rabbit’. Then one time she slipped off the pushchair during a walk and by the time we noticed and walked back she had vanished. Faced with an inconsolable child and knowing that these rabbits are not readily available in the shops I started to panic. Until I noticed the road-cleaner’s lorry disappearing round the corner and in a flash of inspiration decided to race after him and ask if he’d seen it. Oh, he’d seen it all right, once he finally fathomed out what I was trying to say in my pigeon French whilst gasping for air and clinging onto him for support after my impromptu sprint down the road. He reached into his lorry and retrieved a sorry looking rag and couldn’t quite believe that this was a child’s pride and joy and not the discarded rubbish he’d taken it for. Oh dear.

But then Rosie really went missing, and in the nastiest possible way. Poppet left her in the local park one afternoon and nobody noticed until both kids were in bed and the usual shout went up ‘I want Rosie!’. Nobby was dispatched to the park after we’d thoroughly searched the whole house with no luck and sure enough there was Rosie – being tortured by a group of teenagers. The nasty rabble had ripped her to pieces and was kicking her head around the park. What Nobby wouldn’t have done for a quick ‘The Matrix’-style download of some choice French phrases to scream at the insensitive mob. But all he could do was gather up the pieces and bring them home where I tried all evening to stitch her back together… and of course failed. Nobby cleverly invented a story for Poppet, which thankfully she accepted, that Rosie had caught a cold in the park and a doctor had found her and taken her home to get her better and would send her back next week, while I frantically called a friend in the UK to locate us a new rabbit. When it finally came I’m not sure the lack of holes and dirt were completely lost on our little girl, but she didn’t say a word.

These days Rosie (mark 2) is dressed in a complete outfit to cover up all the new holes and dirt and I even tried re-stuffing her to make her last longer but it’s hopeless. So when Poppet asked me to put her through the wash this week I actually just washed the clothes then sneaked a brand new Rosie into them; I found a source of pink, stripy rabbits after the last incident and now I carry a spare. So far I think I have managed to hood-wink her into believing that my washing machine has taken on magical restorative powers. I just hope she doesn’t expect all her clothes to start coming out mended and back to their original colours. But she has been paying Rosie a lot more attention and she’s told me how beautiful Rosie looks after her ‘bath’; I do wonder if in fact it’s me that’s been duped?

So now I need to get a new spare… I feel a shopping trip coming on!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


Well, it’s happened, I have attracted a critic. Nobby would like to point out that my time in Paris last week was actually in 2 separate trips; he took a day off work to take me to the Musee D’Orsay and for a fab lunch. Then I happened to get the chance to go again the following day with Peony, whose mother-in-law has taken her children to the south of France for a fortnight (now that’s a mother-in-law you want to stay on the right side of). I have told him I reserve artistic licence on my Blog to make my life and me sound more windswept and interesting but I think he was still miffed, hence this hurried, yet lovingly meant, addendum. Thanks, Babe, for a lovely day, I’m glad we’ve ticked another sight off the list after only 3 years teetering on the edge of Paris! And thanks too Peony for the shopping trip, of course.

Today I have been trying to tackle the packing for our holiday in the UK which starts on Friday. And failing miserably of course. I have at least dragged out the suitcase and started wading through all the washing but I just can’t get motivated. I have an amazing checklist with little tick-boxes and everything. It even has sections for winter or summer holidays and I have recently removed all the redundant stuff such as pushchair, kiddy-cups and teddy bears and added all the new essentials like portable DVD player, I-Pod and Action Man. It should all be so easy but I know I’ll just be leaving it to the last minute as usual and panicking as we drive down the road on Friday morning that we’ve left something behind. (Or rather I’ve left something behind. That’s the trouble with the list, it’s only as good as the person who wrote it and if you don’t specifically write down to pack Nobby’s sunglasses then they are going to get forgotten and it will be all my fault…)

I was just the same in the run up to exams when I was young. I had the most beautiful revision timetables you ever saw - colour coded, neatly printed, every available hour suitably allocated to give the optimum study-time to each subject. Did I ever follow it? Well of course not. I procrastinated and arranged my books and papers in order and sharpened my pencils but getting down to serious study was too much like accepting I was about to be tested and someone finding out I really wasn’t as clever I wanted people to think. It’s a miracle I ever made it through any exams with the matchsticks holding my eyes open from the sleepless nights of cramming beforehand.

So here we are several (!) years later and I am doing the self-same thing over the holiday packing. Poppet has tried to encourage me by doing her own. She disappeared into her room for about half an hour this morning and came out laden down with 4 rucksacks bulging at the seams and with a Barbie doll in every pocket. I am under strict instructions not to repack it all into the main suitcase as she knows where everything is now and she’s ready as far as she’s concerned. Pickle seems to bend more toward my way of tackling the issue. He made a bit of effort this morning, opening his own blinds and getting himself dressed, until it came to the socks which were a little bit tricky at which point he threw the towel in and turned to Sonic and Super Mario for comfort. Personally I found it was very important to get another few centimetres of my knitting done today so the suitcase is still there, completely empty but hemmed in by Barbies and girly clothes.
Well, there’s always tomorrow.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Bribery and the 5-year-old boy - the ups and downs of school holidays

Nobby is away on business again so I am late night surfing and Blogging because as usual I can’t sleep and every little noise sounds like an axe-wielding serial killer, although it’s probably just the dishwasher on the rinse cycle. Geez, you’d have thought with my ripe old years and a high-tech burglar alarm I’d be over the paranoia. Looks like that’s a ‘no’. At least I know that our ‘pet’ hedgehog is out there snuffling away in the garden and guarding the back door. I was watching him earlier fending off a couple of curious magpies who must have thought it was worth trying to peck off his fleas or something. We’ve nick-named him Sonic, of course.

This week has been just as busy as the last one but I haven’t had my parents around to detach the kids from my ankles while I’m trying to cook or clean. And the little beggars know it’s two against one now and are really testing me. So thank the maker for Holiday Clubs – where you can dump them off for a 7 hour stretch of painting, cooking, dancing, chasing, playing in the forest and generally wearing themselves out while I take off into Paris for some serious site-seeing and elegant dining, darling. Ooh, it’s been bliss - if you overlook the hour driving round looking for a parking space in the middle of Paris, the hour and a half queuing round the block in the rain to get into the Musée D’Orsay and the stilted conversation at the brasserie shouting to be heard over the pneumatic drills, cranes and diggers. Yes, it is road-works season in the city centre as well. Don’t try any clever back-routes or rat runs at this time of year, nine times out of ten you will come to a line of bollards with a diversion sign pointing back the way you came and an irate policeman waving his arms and shouting at the nutter in the Clio who decided the signs didn’t apply to him and has ploughed on through the barricade. These road-workers are turning motorist-baiting into a national sport. On my second trip to town with friend Peony we ended up at a café opposite a car park that was firmly ‘closed for renovation’ when we tried to get into it, only to see the workmen picking and choosing cars to move the barriers for and allow in – mostly women by the look of it. What a cheek! Perhaps two blondes in a BMW wasn’t appealing...

Ah well, at least I can now say that I have taken tea at Bonmarché (very chic, lovey, at a tenner a cup) and stood in front of some original Monets, Renoirs and Picassos. The gallery was amazing, although there was an annoying amount of tutting and puffing from people trying to take photos of their friends standing in front of the works of art, something I have never understood, while the rest of us were just trying to get a good view so we could gaze in awe at some true masterpieces. To me Monet’s water-lilies look a lot better without a Japanese tourist grinning inanely beside them.

Actually, I might be a bit jealous as well as annoyed, having recently been failed by my Sony digital camera. I seem to be plagued with electronic equipment which flips out the day the guarantee runs out. I can see a whole new conspiracy theory opening up before me. The electronics industry, led by Dixons I shouldn’t wonder, have secretly created a microchip which either completely disables your prized electronic devices or subtly instils them with bizarre personality disorders as soon as the warranty is up. And when you take it back to the shop obviously the cost of repair, in fact in some cases the cost of an estimate to repair, is going to be more than buying a replacement; how else are they going to get us all to continually upgrade? I think I may start a rest-home for tired and peculiar gadgets and appliances, starting with my own personal collection of schizophrenic contraptions (excuse me if I get a bit cross while reeling these off, I am gritting my teeth just thinking about them):
The digital camera which will show you the pictures in the memory but will not take any new ones;
The tape machine which will play a tape but won’t rewind or eject;
The DVD player which insists there is no disk in it at all times, even when I JUST BL**DY LOADED ONE!;
The Video recorder which eats tapes for breakfast, lunch and dinner;
The TV with the funny coloured patch at one corner of the screen;
The steam iron which doesn’t steam but spits out water instead;
The vacuum cleaner which only picks up half the dirt;
The child’s computer which will switch itself off in the middle of a game;
The refrigerator whose internal light doesn’t go off when you shut the door so it melts the bulb housing and HEATS UP THE FOOD!;

…calm, calm… deep breathes…

This list does not include my Dad’s video camera which won’t work in a warm environment because it insists it’s too damp and the portable DVD player which skips if it is used whilst stationary. So it’s not just me. Perhaps this could be my new career, providing tertiary care for weary, disturbed electronic appliances and counselling for their tormented owners. There’s definitely a gap in the market.

Well, the small ones are not in the holiday club tomorrow so that’s the end of my lunching and schmoozing for a while. I guess I will be the exhausted one after a day outnumbered by my offspring, trying to occupy them while keeping the house in reasonable order for when Nobby returns. Perhaps some cunning new tidying-up game is in order. They are just getting into money so perhaps if I throw in some bribery and corruption I might just get this place looking tip-top. Poppet recently lost her 7th tooth and she is very proud of the coin the tooth fairy left under her pillow in exchange. Pickle is distinctly miffed at not having a similar line of income – the average tooth yields 1 euro these days. So he has shown willing to undertake various small jobs lately in exchange for a bit of cash – making the beds, sweeping the floors, helping with the dinner. Of course he draws the line at dressing himself or cleaning his teeth when he’s told to but we can work on that. I have tried introducing alternatives to the money, because he doesn’t really understand the value of it, any coin is a real treat to him. Though it rather back-fired today when I asked him what I could possibly give him to persuade him to put his pyjamas on by himself and he replied, ‘a Playstation’. Hmm. I think I’ll be helping him dress for bed for a while longer.
Night night.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Can I have my computer back, pretty please?

Well I am back at the keyboard but I had to fight Nobby to get it. I thought it was safely mine once the kids are in bed (and we adults have eaten and the kitchen is cleared and the general toy explosion downstairs has been tidied up etc etc). But no, the tax returns are due to the accountant in a couple of weeks so Nobby had my nose to the filing cabinet the last two evenings to get them done in good time. I mustn’t grumble, I should be glad that this number crunching can bring out the dormant accountant in him; he is still qualified after all. I had hoped that when I caught him throwing out two CIMA magazines unread the other day that he might revert to my technique of doing the taxes - which is to leave it till the night before the deadline then panic when I can’t gather all the paperwork. I’ll just have to face it that I am numerically challenged. I used to like maths at school, until I signed up for the A Level and all the actual numbers disappeared. At the time I was more interested in Duran Duran and electric blue mascara, I really didn’t give a stuff what ‘x’ equalled. I remember to this day reading through the first horrifying question on the exam. I was already a wobbly mess before we turned the papers over and I wasn’t sure I could even get my name spelt correctly. Then question one was along the lines of ‘If a train leaves Euston station at 9.14am and travels at 83 miles per hour for 126 miles, what did the train-drivers mother-in-law have for breakfast?’. Luckily I scraped a pass; I’m not sure how I’d do these days, although they say the modern A Level is near impossible to fail(!). Throw a few equations at me and I’m sure I’d manage it.

So hooray for Nobby, even if he did start talking all funny about ‘expenditure above the line’ and ‘unapproved ordinary shares’ – the taxes are done. And all I had to do was get my name right.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Can I have my computer back please?

This is going to have to be quick. I haven’t been able to get any quality time on my own computer for over a week and already the little vultures are circling shouting ‘when is it MY turn on the computer?’ School’s only been out for a week and already the children are revolting (in more ways than one). Their attitude to all things electronic would rival the average teenager; I need a crow-bar and a monkey-wrench to get them off the Internet and Poppet has made a permanent impression of her little bottom on the sofa from gawping at the telly. Even when I managed to drag them out to a fun-park last week Pickle spent all of lunch-time looking over the shoulder of a boy on the next table who was playing Sonic on his Game-boy. Yesterday I resolutely refused to let them on the computer and tried my hardest to interest them in colouring, play-dough, junk-modelling or jigsaw puzzles, all with no luck. As it was raining (again) I allowed the TV but when they eventually tired of CBeebies after 3 hours they reverted to their next favourite activity: sibling-baiting. They have truly taken the art of teasing to another level. You know, when I was expecting my second child I had a big debate with my fellow Mums about what qualifies you for the diamond eternity ring. Opinion was divided – some reckoned you earn it for having the first child, others thought it was the second child, or the first 10 years of marriage. Personally I think all three achievements deserve a prize but I managed to persuade Nobby with the 'first boy' argument and happily took delivery of a little row of sparklers. However with hindsight I should also have got a black t-shirt and shorts and a referee’s whistle. Far less dazzling but that yellow card would have been worn right through by now. As I write, my little darlings are waiting patiently for their turn; one is in her customary place on the sofa watching TV while the other one is right beside her playing with the noisiest toy he can find – his new Bingo game which has 90 tiny numbered balls inside a revolving plastic globe and makes a noise like hail on a tin roof. It’s all going to end in tears I just know it, as the volume creeps higher and higher. And of course they’ll both say the other one started it. I saw a TV programme once which was investigating at what age children learn how to lie. Personally I think they master them one at a time starting with ‘it wasn’t me’, which does cover a multitude of sins although clearly doesn’t work in all situations. For instance, Poppet had already been in trouble for producing a work of art on her bedroom wall; clearly ‘it wasn’t me’ didn’t wash because her brother can’t, and won’t, draw princesses and it was right by her pillow. That was some time ago and I managed to clean most of it off and remove all the pens and pencils from her room. But as I was making her bed the other day I noticed she’d added some new enhancements to her design, all in a rather dull colour and with an interesting texture. I looked a bit closer and immediately had a flash-back to my own childhood as I realised what I was seeing. And, like Poppet, I couldn’t think of a good enough lie to respond convincingly to the same question my mother asked me all those years ago: ‘is that snot?’

Ah, they’ve made friends and disappeared upstairs now so I have a bit longer to update all the news. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see my parents after being so ill that last week of school. Suddenly all the ironing disappeared and the foot-high grass was cut and the children had two fresh playmates to badger for the week. (Now they’ve gone I think Nana will be happy if she never sees another Barbie again and I doubt Grandpa will want to play chess for a while…) I already felt better by Saturday, which was good because Nobby’s cold, which had been festering all week, became so bad I confined him to bed for the day. He didn’t seem to mind, perhaps because he knew I had other company to help me out, possibly because that company was his in-laws, but probably because I told him he wouldn’t be welcome at Pickle’s party unless he threw off his germs. Whichever way, he was a good patient for once. The party next day was a great success and the cakes were stunning – one in the shape of a car and the other with Spiderman on top. The other parents, who are used to me making my own party cakes, were very complimentary and suggested again that I go into business. I just nodded knowingly, as I screwed up the Sainsbury’s receipt and hid it in my pocket. I have to say that despite the enormous expense, these party venues are a great idea as you can just walk away from all the mess and return to a house in the same state in which you left it. Unless you’re me, of course. Just to be different I had opted for a Lucky Dip instead of party bags and all the kids seemed to enjoy hunting through a huge tub of shredded paper for a small parcel at the end of the party. My own two enjoyed it so much that when they got home they each hid some of their toys in the tub so they could continue ‘dipping’. Of course the game soon evolved as they decided ‘let’s hide each other in the shredded paper!’. Naturally the tub was too small so the paper had to come out and completely ruined my tidy-house theory. Nice.

Hmm, I just saw a small person walk by carrying a pot of paint. I think I will have to save my account of the Book Club meeting - at which an interloper plied the group, and my Mum, with his extensive liqueur collection with interesting results – for another time. Assuming I can ever get back to the keyboard!