Tuesday, 27 January 2009

An attack of the Mondays...

I think my pre-birthday doldrums are setting in, even though its still 3 weeks away. Like Rose, since I left my teens I only get the occasional spot on my face - any occasion will do, Christmas, Easter, Hanukah – and my birthday one already arrived on my chin on Friday and settled in for the long haul. Pooey. I haven’t started on the nail-chewing yet though; every year all my finger nails mysteriously disappear at the start of February, it’s something of a tradition ever since my 30th. I am keeping away from the mirror until March now so I don’t have to see any of the grey hairs popping out. God I hate my birthdays.

And I know I am also suffering from post-birthday blues too – my Poppet was 8 on Saturday, do you believe it? and I am having a hard time working out where all the time went. How did my tiny, pink-swathed bundle become the tall, lanky Barbie-nut whose favourite phrase is ‘Oh, for goodness sake!’ and who can sing along to ‘The Time Warp’? I confess I may have an inkling where she heard the dubious language… it’s one of the many kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck fantastic quirks of having children that you hear your own adult words coming out of their little mouths, however quietly you say them and try to cover up afterwards. But I know it was *not* me who gave her the offending music. She hasn’t asked me what ‘pelvic thrusts’ are yet but I shall refer her to Auntie Ginga when that one comes up I think.

So as you can imagine I was reminiscing a little over the weekend as Poppet tore her way through a dozen pinky-shminky wrapped parcels in under a minute. We have come quite a long way since I boarded that ambulance and became intimately acquainted with the local maternity unit. I was only just getting used to my married name at the time as we’d only been spliced for just over a year, so I was scarcely prepared for hearing it used in a sentence flanked by the words ‘you can do it!’ and ‘Push!’. But hey, we all know childbirth is a wonderful thing and I am not going to labour the point (!). Nobby and I exchanged a few fond looks as Poppet asked us how the big day went and I knew he’d been remembering as well. Although I think his memories are rather different than mine. When she asked ‘So, was there any blood?’ I was stuck between not wanting to ruin her image of the miracle of birth and not wanting to lie. But then Nobby leapt heroically to the rescue with ‘Yes, there was some blood, but only on my hand where Mummy was digging her fingernails in.’

Poppet’s gift haul was as impressive as ever this year. One favourite was the Prince Charming ‘Ken’ doll who was swiftly married to one of the Barbies before we even cut the birthday cake. Then there was the Poppet-sized princess outfit which she didn’t take off all weekend. I hadn’t realised it came with an attitude adjustment hidden in the lining until her royal highness started giving her orders out with manners that would have put Kevin the Teenager to shame. But hey, it was her birthday, we humoured her for a bit and I can’t say I minded the decree that we should all have dinner out at TGI Fridays. At least she had a couple of new DVDs to park in front of when she tired of us plebs. My squister gave her the uber-hyped ‘High School Musical’ which I decided to watch with her after recalling the high school movie with chart-topping catchy tunes that came out when I was eight years old myself: a certain film called ‘Grease’. Back in the 70’s I wasn’t allowed to watch Grease and its portrayal of innocent teenage love, despite knowing all the words to ‘Summer Lovin’’ and ‘Hopelessly Devoted To You’. I think it was the bad language, suspected teenage pregnancy, gang rivalry, bitchy back-stabbing and illegal car racing that put my Mum off… (hey, thinking about it, either Grease was way ahead of its time or else modern America is using it as a training video… you be the judge…) But I needn’t have worried: High School Musical is a *Disney* film so naturally it is squeaky clean, the cast is precision balanced in terms of race and attractiveness (although there’s only one who’s ‘dimensionally challenged’), the bad guys smile and shrug resignedly when their dastardly plans are thwarted and there’s no kissing until the sequel (which appears to be set in Teletubby land, I swear I saw Tinky Winky dancing along in the background.) All-in-all the biggest pile of cheese this side of a Frenchman’s dinner party.

We had the birthday party at a play centre; I can highly recommend just taking the hit on the wallet and letting someone else provide all the entertainment, snacks, cake, drinks, mops, brooms and bin bags. I’m sure all her friends slept very well on Sunday night. Being a true ex-pat party we had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung in 5 different languages this year – English, French, Hungarian, Arabic and Azerbaijani. We would have had Portuguese too but Boy-Next-Door was too shy. He just chased all the little girls round the bouncy castles instead and had a plastic ball fight with Nobby (who also slept well Sunday night!)

So there we are for another year. I think I may quietly ignore mine and hope it goes away. Here’s a thought, if you don’t celebrate your birthday do you get to pick your age? That would seem fair. I already trained the children to answer ‘29’ when anyone asks how old Mummy is. Although the problem with having a maths genius in the household means that Pickle won’t buy that one any longer so I think I’m scuppered. I guess it’s time to brace myself and accept what’s coming. I’m off to get started on those fingernails.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

OhMyGod, she’s back again and it’s only been 2 days since her last Blog. Well, dear reader, now that the cleaning is done I have my tax return to avoid so here I am blogging instead, procrastinating away. Yes, I know it’s almost 31st January deadline for tax returns and no, I am not a lazy-arse about financial matters. The fact is I didn’t know they were expecting a self assessment off me until 2 days ago, when a letter arrived that had taken a whole month to find me as it went to my French address first – that re-direction service was well worth the money, non?. You can imagine the celebrations back in April last year when Nobby’s annual notice arrived but mine didn’t, for the first time in about ten years? I don’t see much point in me doing the darned thing anyway since I haven’t earned a bean in seven years (well, maybe one or two beans but hardly a tax-worthy amount.) Then this letter plops into the mailbox reminding me that I will be fined £100 if I don’t cough up by the end of the month. One call to the tax office later and I find out that they did indeed send me a notice and the fact that I didn’t receive it is no excuse. I am welcome to appeal - after paying the fine – or I can knuckle down and get it done. Chuffing brilliant.

So I cut Tiggy’s walk short this morning to get back and crack on with it. Although I would have cut it short anyway without the tax cloud hanging over me on account of a) the ice and b) the smell. Our usual route near to the school has been under snow for about a month now and unfortunately the thaw hasn’t reached that high up yet. So now it is all compacted ice and rather treacherous. There were moments when my pirouetting around in an effort not to land on my bum would have given Jane Torville a run for her money. And still the joggers huff on by! Are they mad? Do they have special spiky shoes? No they don’t, they just run at the sides of the path where it’s not so icy. Unfortunately for them, that is where all the doggies do their business and I saw evidence that at least one jogger had come a cropper with a trail of prints that went nike trainer – splat - nike trainer – splat – nike trainer – splat all along the lovely crisp white trail. (By the way, I pick mine up, my conscience is clear) But dog poo isn’t the source of the smell. I don’t know what’s going on up there but the overwhelming reek of sewage is getting so bad I have to wear three scarves round my face to be able to breathe. I can only imagine that the solitary ‘sport’ hotel there has a manky menu and dodgy drains because the poo lorry is up there all the time and it’s not yet clear if he’s sucking up or dropping off. (Of course, I mean ‘sewage truck’, but you must understand that I spend the majority of my day with either a dumb dog or small children so I’m in the habit of keeping it simple.)

Anyway, I suppose I should get on with the number crunching now, but first let me tell you about our little Columbo escapade this morning. Both Pickle and Poppet are nuts about DS at the moment and they even want to play it before school. Oh horrors! you cry. Oh joy! says I because it is the perfect lever to get the little monkeys doing all the pre-school-run preparations I have been begging them to do all these years in double quick time. They ate their breakfasts unaided, cleaned their teeth, put their clothes on and got themselves ready and into the car with 15 minutes to spare this morning, such was the pull of Mario & Sonic and My Simms. But then we could only find one DS console. Pickle had left the black one on the table last night but it had moved, and not back into it’s Designated Storage Area which is where we found the pink console. As it happens, I went to bed disgustingly early last night leaving Nobby in charge of things so we assumed he may have moved it. So we all turned detective and a quick check for clues revealed that the Mario & Sonic game was back in the box and Professor Layton and the Curious Village was missing. Seeing as that is Nobby’s current DS obsession it was a fair bet he’d been playing on it before retiring. So where had he left it? We checked the computer, where we knew he’d been watching the Man Utd scores. Nope. We checked the bedside table in case he’d gone as far as substituting it for his bedtime book. Nope. We couldn’t find it anywhere, so we came up with a plan for the pair of them to share the pink one and headed for the car wondering where on earth the black console could be. It wasn’t until I decided to check my hair before departure that it finally turned up – when I popped into the downstairs loo to use the mirror… and there is was on the shelf by the toilet. Gotcha Nobby!!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Today is my designated cleaning day and even I will admit the house really needs it. So I have decided to catch up with my Blog instead. I know I am the worlds best procrastinator when it comes to big jobs but I actually think I have earned a breather today having already completed a 4.5km walk with the dog through the Buda hills and it’s only 9.25am. Aren’t I good? I recently discovered that we are spitting distance from a circular walking route, which is marked the whole way round with little red circles on trees and telegraph poles so even I can’t get lost. And since my new neighbour and I started sharing the school runs I only need to get the children ready for 8am on a Monday, leaving me free to don my scruffs and get out early with the dog. Which is good because we just booked our first skiing holiday for 2 years and I seriously need to build up some fitness before I hit the slopes. Luckily this new walk is a killer, Nobby and me call it ‘The Thigh Burner’ because it goes up to about 430m above sea level according to the map whereas our house is nearer 200m. It doesn’t sound like much until you realise you cross a snow-line on the way up - this morning I was getting pretty wet on the lower slopes as all the ice melts off the trees (at last, a thaw) then as we reached the peak we were trudging through fresh snow. This is such a far cry from the old English winters I was used to.

Anyway, I reckon I have earned a little blog, plus I was thinking what to write on the walk round. I do mean to write it down more frequently but every time I head for keyboard something comes up, like ice storms, gas shortages, power cuts and sleepovers… And if I ever do sit in front of the computer I always have something more pressing to look up, such as skiing holidays or birthday parties, or trying to find information in English about ice storms and gas shortages. See, due to the language barrier and lack of TV we are getting most of our news third hand and somewhat last minute these days. The first I knew about a weather alert last week was from the lady I was palming the children off onto while I went to a meeting. Ooh, there’s some other news – I have a little voluntary job now, clerking for the school Parents Advisory Committee. The head offered me the position last week in the full knowledge that I would take it because I wrote her a rather whining email the week before telling her what I thought could be improved at the school. So I rather had to put my money where my mouth is and muck in, although I have sent another whiny email about the chosen time for these committee meetings - 4.30 in the afternoon on a school day. It means that in order to do the unpaid work I have been craving to help stop me talking to the wall and the dog all day, I will have to pay a babysitter for 2 hours… I have a feeling this committee will rue the day they invited me to join them, but I have already been announced in the school newsletter so now they’re stuck with me, ha!

So, the second time I knew about this ice storm was 7am the day is was due to hit, when the school phoned to say it was going to be closed for the day because of the dangerous roads. So the children and I had a lovely lie-in and eventually opened the curtains expecting to see some spectacular natural phenomenon raging outside the windows. But it just looked like drizzle. You could have mistaken it for a typical English winters day. Until Tiggy took a couple of steps out of the back door on her way for a wee and slid off across the patio like a scene from Bambi. Poor little mite. It was truly treacherous out there, just like a skating rink, Nobby had a really hard time getting back from the bus stop that evening and its only 200 yards. School was closed again the next day although the ice was slightly better on the main roads so we made it round to K’s house and holed up there for the day, ordering in takeaway pizzas for lunch, yummy.

I think I just need to get used to being the last to know about everything from now on, case in point, the gas shortage. My neighbour mentioned something about her company turning off all the heating at the office to save gas one day, I think it was when I was telling her how our boiler seemed to be doing something funny. I subsequently called the landlord out to have a look at it and it turned out it was functioning perfectly normally, only I had never paid attention to it before. I looked a right numpty. But he said it was OK to be cautious during a gas crisis. What gas crisis? says I. It seems Russia had cut off all supplies to Europe through our neighbours the Ukraine several days before, over some argument or other between the two, and we were all living off reserves. Luckily Hungary has about 100 days supply in stock so we weren’t in any imminent danger of having to light a fire in the lounge to keep warm (which would have been fun seeing as we don’t have a chimney…) but apparently our other neighbouring countries were running short so Hungary started selling off some of their stock to them – ever the opportunist. The latest I heard is that the supply was switched back on after some high-powered intervention in the dispute, however the gas still isn’t coming through properly because they switched off a system that was never meant to be switched off and now they can’t get it running again.

And if you think that’s laughable, how about the directive that came through from the Budapest officials the other Sunday morning. Yes Sunday. At 10am they announced that because the smog/dust pollution in Budapest had just risen to some nasty high level, Budapest residents could only drive their car every other day from Monday onwards. The system was simple – ‘if your car registration number is even you can only drive on even-numbered days of the month, and if your car registration number is odd, you can only drive on odd-numbered days’. Unfortunately Nobby’s team had a 2-day meeting on Monday and Tuesday which meant that to comply with the restrictions, only those people with even-numbered plates could drive there on the Monday but they couldn’t drive back on the Tuesday. And those with odd-numbered plates could drive home on Tuesday but would have to hitch a ride there on Monday. I wonder how many other people’s Sundays were written off in frantic phone calls trying to arrange even-numbered buses and contact an entire work-force to change their travel plans? Or trying to invent the incredible shrinking car you can pop in your pocket and take with you? Personally I didn’t have a lot of options in terms of getting the children to school so I decided to flout the rules and take my chances if I happened to get stopped by the police. As I drove along absently noting number plates I noticed quite a lot of other people doing exactly the same thing that Monday morning. In the end the police were never given any sanctions to impose anyway and the restriction was lifted on Tuesday lunchtime. I haven’t yet heard if that means it all worked…

So, I suppose I should get on with the cleaning now and stop avoiding it. There were 6 children running around here on Saturday night, 5 of whom stayed the whole night, so the dust I have been content to leave until I can write my name in it has been considerably stirred and is floating across the landing like tumbleweed in a bad Western movie. It doesn’t help that the dog has started moulting again and recently developed a habit of coming upstairs whenever she realises she is alone in the lounge with Pickle. He likes giving her big, squeezy hugs and teasing her unmercifully to show her how much he adores her but I’m not sure she sees it that way and runs to Mummy, leaving a trail of fur behind her. I am not sure which one of them to enrol in Dog Borstal first for re-training.

Right, hand me that duster, I’m going in.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Happy New Year

Well, Christmas is done for another year and what a voyage of discovery and new experiences it has been. Not least of which is the pillow fight that my 8 year old daughter is currently having in her bedroom with the 11 year old boy from next door… I have as much experience with 11 year olds as I do with sky-diving so I hadn’t a clue what he’d want to do when he came round to play for the first time after school today. But from the shrieking coming from the next room I think he’s enjoying himself. The actual objective of him coming over was to practice his English a bit – he’s Portuguese but he’s going to the same English school as mine while he’s here in Budapest. I’m not sure ‘I’m gonna get you!’ was the vocab practice his mother had in mind, but I am sure it will come in handy.

Pickle has also treated me to a genuinely new encounter – being locked in my own bathroom by a 6 year old. Who would have thought that a little pipsqueak like my Pickle could jam up a door handle so thoroughly just by hanging off it with all his insignificant weight as to require Nobby to take the door off its hinges to rescue me? I suppose I should be grateful that Nobby was around or else passers-by might have witnessed me lowering myself out of the window by my bathrobe-belt in a bid for freedom. Thankfully the door was not a right-off so all’s well that ends well.

I am pleased to report that I did indeed fit everything into the suitcases for our jaunt to the UK, although I had to borrow an extra one to bring all the Christmas treasures back again. Weighing the luggage before going to the airport was another unique experience. Mum helpfully trotted in with a set of bathroom scales to help me… they looked oddly familiar… in fact it was the same set of bathroom scales she had when I lived at home 20 years ago. Unlike myself I’m afraid they have not aged well (!) and they were not very flattering when reading my weight. I knew that there was no way I had gained half a stone over the festive period so I got off and tried again. Only for them to read even heavier the second time. I was really on a hiding to nothing trying to get an accurate feel for the weight of the suitcases, especially since they only showed stones and pounds and my maths is ropey at the best of times. But at least I know what to get my Mum next Christmas.

However, THIS Christmas little did I know that I was completely wasting my time with the frantic shopping, the endless wrapping and the careful packing. It became evident early on once Poppet had opened all her parcels that I need only have bought one thing this year and that no other toys, books or gadgets would be needed the rest of the holiday season. The Transformers lay untouched, the chocolate oranges remained intact. We didn’t even play the traditional 4 hour game of Newmarket on Christmas night. Suddenly the entire family became hooked onto one game – Uno Extreme. It’s a very simple card game to which some cunning game-designer somewhere has added a new twist. When you are required to pick up a card from the deck, you instead press a button on a little machine which randomly spews cards across the table for you, anything from 0 to 10 cards at a time. Pickle in particular thinks it’s terrific and I have it on good authority that my sister missed it so much after we brought it home that she went out and bought one for herself. Never has a family been so united in it’s obsession, (well at least not since I loaned the DVD box-set of ‘Lost’ to Pickle’s class teacher and hooked her entire family to their TV screen… )

I wonder what my brother will make of it all once he returns from honeymoon. Yes, the poor devil missed out on the family turkey-and-sprouts-fest this year as he was sunning himself and his new wife in Las Vegas. He was very dutiful and still texted me at midnight for the New Year – he was in Jamaica by that time, having apparently climbed a waterfall as his day’s activity whilst we were lazing around in our pjs and watching the dog play in the snow here in the sub-zeroes. They threw a superb do for their wedding, although they had to make do with fake snow from a foam-cannon for the Christmassy pictures. Nobby, Poppet and Pickle all performed their duties to perfection, as did I in my champagne-testing capacity although I think his be-kilted friend from school upstaged me with his mine-sweeping activities in the conference suite next door. Somehow he got away with snaffling a dozen bottles of wine from the tables while the delegates were dancing so that we wedding-goers could all carry on drinking once the bar staff had gone to bed. I never saw a sporran used for smuggling wine before…

The other hero has to be Patchy Pete the clown who entertained all the kids during the speeches. At first glance he appeared to be this little old man in a shabby patch-work suit whom the assembled children, high on sticky toffee pudding and chocolate party favours, would make mincemeat of in ten seconds flat. But an hour and a half later on he had them all wrapped round his little finger, sitting neatly in a row and roaring with laughter. Several parents were also enjoying the high jinks, I was among them - frantically taking notes on my napkin for future kid-control emergencies.

Actually, the kids were on top form the whole holiday, considering they slept in 5 different beds in 10 days and covered a few hundred miles in the car. All I can say is god bless Nintendo DS. We have two consoles now and it has never been quieter in the back seat of the car when the Nintendogs and My Sims are playing. Of course, Nobby now wants to graduate to a Wii after thoroughly road testing one at a friend’s house. I have video footage of him and his mate virtual-boxing in front of the telly in their playroom, although it’s a bit wobbly as I was laughing so hard while I took it. I guess I may be persuaded sometime in the future considering we are no nearer to getting BBC1 here in Hungary and I don’t fancy the new Dr Who much anyway, but we have series 4 of Lost to get through first so I can probably dig my heels in for a couple more weeks.

For now it’s back to the routine, which I didn’t miss one iota while we were away in view of the fact that I didn’t have to cook or clean or iron for 10 glorious days. But I confess that I am enjoying the peace while the kids are in school, especially since this evening’s activities have been so noisy and I had no excuse to shush them on behalf of the neighbours because they were part of the pack. Tiggy and I are back to our customary post-school-run walks in the park, which is currently under 3 inches of snow and giving me every excuse not to go too hard at the post-Christmas speed-walking just yet in case I slip and hurt myself. Mind you, the crazy joggers are still huffing past us every few minutes, risking their necks for their daily fitness session. Good luck to them, I say; I’m not ready for my spandex just yet, even though, like Nobby, when I undress the ol’ post-mince pie physique is less Mr Beefcake and more Mr Cheesecake. But the thigh-length duvet-coat covers a multitude of sins while it keeps me warm in minus 5 degrees all day long, so my first new year resolution is don’t leave home without one. The diet will wait.