Sunday, 30 March 2008

Codename Sparky

What do you get if you cross a dog with an electric fence?

Well, if the dog is stupid enough to try to crawl under the fence to get at the golf balls on the driving range on the other side then the answer is: a lot of yelping. Especially if it's raining.

Yes, our lovely Tiggy is living up to her new nickname of Dogbrain (courtesy of Pickle, naturally) and managed to get zapped not just once, but three times by an electric fence today. Somehow the first shock didn’t stop her crawling all the way under and getting trapped on the far side. Then while we searched for a place where she could safely jump back over it without becoming tangled in the barbed wire strung above it, she panicked and crawled under it again, getting zapped twice more. Poor thing promptly took off to the car quicker than a whippet, with her sizzling tail tucked firmly between her legs.

But some good may come of it; perhaps now she’ll think twice before digging under our fence to get at next door’s Chihuahua, something she has been doing pretty regularly, including yesterday afternoon… during our neighbour’s annual Easter Egg hunt. You never saw twenty kids running so fast away from the eggs...

Friday, 28 March 2008

Where is the Off Switch?

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, we spend the first two years of our kids’ lives teaching them to walk and talk, and then the next sixteen telling them to sit down and shut up. My son has such a bad case of verbal diarrhoea at the moment I’m thinking of inserting an Imodium up his bottom to see if it works in reverse.

I do love to listen to him talk, of course, and I am proud that he is taking notice of the world around him and finding so much to say. That is, when he’s not teamed up with his sister whining for something, or ‘lumming’ as we call it. You know, someone once said that a baby’s cry is specifically tuned in to their mother’s consciousness so that she cannot ignore it; something along the lines of a pneumatic drill outside your front room I think is how they described it. It makes perfect sense: baby cries, Mummy picks it up - because it feels like her eardrums are going to burst. It is now apparent to me that they keep this ability as they get older but cunningly exploit other sensitive sounds to prevent Mummy from becoming immune. Rose and I are both susceptible to the same trigger. You know that moment on a hot summer night, when you have just finished scratching the latest crop of insect bites on your legs and finally turned out the light? Then, out of the darkness, somewhere just above your head, you hear that distinctive, high pitched ‘eeeEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeee… eeeeeeeEEEEeee… eeeEEEEEEEE…’ of a small, hungry mosquito looking for it’s next meal. (And you know you’ll never be able to find it if you turn on the light and all the repellent in the world won’t make the little bugger go away.) Well, that’s the sound our kids make now when they follow us round the kitchen, on the lum, whining ‘MumeeeEEE… can I play on the computer?' 'MummEEEEEE.. can I have something to eat?’ It’s astounding we still have any hair left; I’ve already chewed away all my finger nails.

Then there’s Pickle’s current favourite: every sentence starts with ‘Muuum? d’you know…?’ Then he’ll launch into a monologue about how he can’t wait to marry his little girlfriend and wondering what their children will look like and whether he’ll be a train driver or a farmer and deciding how he’ll be taller than his sister when he’s seven and describing how he rescued so-and-so’s toy car from under the fence in the playground and on and on and on. Bless his little cotton socks and khaki combats. I do try hard to be attentive and keep nodding and smiling and saying, ‘Really, darling?’ and ‘Gosh how interesting!’ at the appropriate times but often I find myself tuning out and thinking about Mummy stuff like the shopping list or whether I should put on a darks or a whites wash next or how to make broccoli exciting for a 5 year old tonight... (yes, it’s exciting stuff, my internal dialogue.)

And that’s when he comes out with the profound, heart-warming, bottom-lip-wobbling observations like, ‘Muuuum? d’you know?… I’m so glad that I am in the world because it’s so pretty with all the flowers and colours.’

Well you can’t argue with that can you?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

They grow up so fast…

I know they say that children grow up faster these days but lately Poppet is taking the mickey. And to cap it all she can’t decide whether she’s going to be a stroppy teenage thorn in my side or a thirty-something tea-sucking bossy-boots.

She awoke on Easter Sunday a normal enough 7-year-old, racing downstairs to see if the Easter Bunny had been. Of course he had, and he’d left her a chocolate rabbit plus a Barbie Easter egg with obligatory bling accessories which made her squeal with glee – this was all pre-dawn by the way so you can imagine how delighted I was for her, since Sunday is my day for a lie-in. By lunchtime rather a lot of chocolate had been eaten in front of the TV and maybe that’s what brought on the bout of adolescence when she was told to find something else to do. She threw an almighty tantrum with full Kevin the teenager arm waving and stomping, yelling ‘It’s so unfair!’ However by tea time, after an afternoon of drawing and playing she was all but middle- aged, requesting a cup of tea with her hot-buttered muffins and remonstrating with Pickle for not sitting still on his chair. Now I’m no psychologist but the girl seems a bit confused?!

Pickle, on the other hand, is in full regression, incapable of doing anything for himself, staying in one place for more than thirty seconds or resisting any distractions. He won’t eat unaided - ‘Mummy feed me!’- his idea of putting his own shoes on is holding out his foot to me and if you send him to get dressed you’ll find him an hour later, still in PJs (or possibly stark naked if you’re lucky), playing with some piece of plastic which has been lying in a corner for several months. Ironically he is still wiping his own bum, maybe there is hope.

And me? I think I can feel another grey hair coming on.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


Who am I trying to kid? ‘I hope to get round to it in the next couple of days’… as usual it’s taken me a whole week to drag myself back to the keyboard, suffering from the worst curve-ball of all, a stuffy nose. Yuk. And what is more the accompanying itchy eyes and wheezing make the doctor think I am allergic to something. Uh-oh. The dog is the prime suspect of course but I am hoping that it might turn out to be something less controversial such as tree pollen. If it’s dust, of course, I am stuffed; there is no way I can muster a dust-free home no matter how much I need to. Although at this moment I think I would do anything to stop my sinuses from feeling like they are about to burst through the front of my forehead. So for now I’m on industrial strength anti-histamines and bronchodilators and looking forward to the hilariously named ‘Prick Test’ (steady on) which should reveal the true culprit.

Meanwhile I thought I had better respond to Dazza’s latest tag before he writes me off as a total failure so here are 7 ‘random or weird facts’ about myself.

1. I get cramp in my tongue. I do also get it in more normal places like my feet and calves but you wanted the weird stuff. I believe it proves that I am in fact a quiet and shy sort of person whose tongue cramps from under-use rather than the gobby cow whose tongue is trying to silence her so it can get some rest.

2. I handed in my dissertation for my degree 3 days after the deadline, despite having had over a year to get it done. And the reason? (not the one I gave my tutor of course, he thought I’d had flu) - Lemmings. It was a dippy computer game which required you to guide a crowd of mindless little green-haired creatures across an obstacle strewn landscape without them all throwing themselves off any cliffs. I was hooked; I hold my hands up to it. Whenever I sat down at the computer to work on my ‘diss’ my hand automatically passed over the floppy disk storing a year’s worth of study (this is some time ago, can you tell?!) and headed straight for the Lemmings instead, assuring myself that it was actually exercising my brain trying to work out the best route across and which little guys to sacrifice off the cliff for the greater good. And I have the gall to berate my son for his Sonic dependency? Shame on me.

3. I am a recovering Trekkie. (This is becoming a confessional.) There was once a time about 5BC (Before Children) when I couldn’t sleep unless I had watched at least one episode of ‘The Next Generation’, of which I have the full collection. On VHS cassette. It takes up half a wardrobe. I am better now thank goodness. I am not sure how I'd fit any Klingons on my starboard bow given my current schedule, coupled with the fact that Nobby can't stomach Star Trek so any indulgence has to be strictly Sulu, I mean solo. I have occasionally succumbed while the kids are at school but I can actually go a whole fortnight or more without a fix. And I bought ‘Voyager’ on DVD so it only takes up a small cupboard...

4. I detest conflict. What I mean is I hate arguing. Not just doing it myself (and not because I can’t) but watching other people argue and fight brings me out in unbearable cringing and makes me want to go and hide. I can’t watch any of those confrontational programmes like Jerry Springer, Oprah or even Watchdog where they righteously challenge rogue traders with evidence of their villainous behaviour on our behalf, like charging bewildered housewives £200 to change a washer. In the heat of the moment I am that bewildered housewife; I can only think of what I should have said 10 minutes afterwards by which point I have probably lost face and lost money. I do all my complaining by email or letter as my face, neck and décolletage always give away my inner torment by turning a disgusting shade of crimson if I attempt to berate someone in person. I have to say my game is improving somewhat since the children came along, after all I did muster that spectacular rant for Mr Bonfire (who came and apologised yesterday by the way…! you could have knocked me down with a feather!) And I do a much better job when I am drunk, as Nobby will testify.

5. I am scared of moving tractors. If you’re ever walking down the road with me (or like Nobby once was, cycling down a country lane) and a JCB approaches, particularly if it’s sporting a scoop or other digging paraphernalia, be prepared to watch me dive down the nearest man-hole so it won’t ‘get’ me. What can I say? There was an incident in my childhood, my Mum probably can’t even remember it, but the damage is done. I am a wuss.

6. I once saw Belinda Carlisle without her slap on. Whatever she pays her make-up artist, it isn’t enough.

7. I went to Uni with a chap called Michael Jackson. He was blonde and liked Frank Sinatra. I never met his parents but I bet they were a hoot.

In the words of our garrulous American friends, go figure. Here endeth today’s revelations.

Monday, 10 March 2008

School’s Back!!

Was it wicked of me to dance a little jig and shout hooray after I dropped the children off at school this morning?! Not that I am complaining about having them all to myself for 2 weeks. It has had its moments but there’s only so much enthusiasm I can muster when we rock up to the same play-place for the 5th time in as many days because its pelting rain and I can’t think of anywhere else to go that doesn’t involve buying nuggets and chips or another couple of crates to store yet another pile of plastic they’ve cornered me into buying. They’ve each developed their own individual mantra to annoy me this holiday. Pickle’s is ‘Can I play on the computer?’ and Poppet’s is ‘Can I have something to eat?’ I usually get these about 10 minutes after a meal and when Pickle has already spent 2 hours on Sonic the Hedgehog. As you can see, I haven’t been able to get much time on the computer myself, but when I did I put a password on to stop him sneaking a quick go when I’m in the loo. Methinks he has a little addiction developing.

It was a relief to have Nobby with us and to go away to Center Parcs last week. We drove to the one in Belgium which wasn’t a bad journey, although you can really tell when you’ve crossed the border – the roads are in a terrible state and all the other cars speed up by about 150 mph. Is it just me or is there something going on between the Belgians and their neighbours? Frog-baiting seems to be a national sport on their highways; we either had people tailgating us so close you could smell their armpits or cutting us up with inches to spare. Then when we decided to show off our mastery of a second language in a Belgian café the waitress gave us a withering look and told us that if we couldn’t muster any Dutch or Flemish we should stick to English and not spout any French at her, thank you very much. Weird.

The only other odd thing was the toilets. We’re used to toilets with pools of water to receive your ‘evacuations’, which of course has its drawback of occasionally soaking your exposed cheeks but at least it masks any odours and you can’t see much. The Belgian ones had a ‘shelf’ with the flush hole tucked away at the front so before flushing you could take a jolly good look at what you produced, whether you wanted to or not. I prefer ‘not’ myself, although I was prepared to go along with the contraptions, until one evening Pickle had a ‘toilet situation’ which may have traumatised me. I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say there was enough screaming to make some woman bang on the cubicle door to demand what I was doing to my son, there was a ‘manual intervention’ to relieve the painful blockage, followed by a nuclear dump that would shame an elephant. Oh, the fun of being a Mum! I am scarred for life.

Anyway, being Center Parcs veterans we know the formula pretty well although taking the dog for the first time added a new dimension. Obviously we couldn’t let her roam free outside given her tendency to escape and wander off from most secure looking garden. So we tethered her on a long bit of rope, which she wasn’t too pleased about. We found it most entertaining though given how many trees there were in the vicinity – you’d pop her outside and sit down for a coffee, then when you check on her 10 minutes later she’s sat up close to a tree trunk that she’s managed to get the rope wrapped round. It gave a whole new meaning to ‘winding up the dog’. Fortunately there were plenty of areas away from other villas where we could let her off the lead for a run. Unfortunately she developed a taste for swimming and spent a lot of time splashing about in the numerous ponds trying to catch the ducks.

We did a fair bit of splashing ourselves in the ‘swimming paradise’. Both kids finally decided that waterslides are fun which was good news in that Nobby and me could use them more ourselves, but bad news in that even 15 times is not enough for a 5 or 7 year old and we were totally knackered after an hour of tumbling down these things and begging the kids to let us go get dressed. Luckily there was always ‘Discovery Bay’ to fall back on, a sort of ship-wreck cove, complete with sand, stream, stepping stones, half a pirate galleon, a scary rope bridge and one kamikaze parrot. (It managed a very good impression of a plastic parrot until you got too close then it took off squawking around the whole place, dive bombing as may heads as possible.) Then there was the ‘Kids Wannabe Klub’ each day where our two were taken off our hands for an hour or so and transformed into pirates, magicians, painters, bakers and craftsmen, and there were ‘Pépé Tévé’ shows too where all we parents had to do was drink coffee in the background and try to work out what was going on.

On Mother’s Day Nobby treated me to a facial while he minded the kids and the dog. It was very relaxing and I’m sure the therapist didn’t mind my stomach growling throughout the session. At least I didn’t fart or snore, which I believe can sometimes happen, ahem. I was really enjoying it – cleanse, tone, exfoliate, steam - until the therapist started ‘treating’ the blackheads on my nose… by squeezing them! Then just as the tears were drying up she started ‘shaping’ my eyebrows. Plucking hell. I should have read the small print I think. At least the neck and shoulder massage was nice, although I have never had anyone massage my ears before…

So today it’s back to the routine and I have a school pickup in about 15 minutes. We’re getting some of England’s stormy weather today so I could just put up my brolly and jet off in a Mary Poppins stylie. Hmm, perhaps I’ll take the car.
By the way, I have been ‘tagged’ by Dazza to reveal 7 random things about myself on my Blog. I hope to get round to it in the next couple of days so watch this space.