Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Things To Do With Your Child #6: Making Musical Instruments

It is around this time of year that I start to pine for my old job.  I used to love getting my classroom all set up and ready for my new class in September and right now, teachers everywhere are preparing to go back to work after the glorious 6 weeks of summer holiday.  Doubtless, when I walk past the local primary school next week and see the poor sod on playground duty trying to remove three new reception kids from their leg so they can drink their coffee and screeching ineffectively about only using skipping ropes for the intended purpose I will be delighted that I am now a stay at home mum, but at the moment I feel a bit nostalgic and sad.  So much so that I had a brief flick through my old planning folder for my reception class last night in search of activities for Rory.  I hit the jackpot with an old lesson plan about making musical instruments:


You will need:
A kitchen roll tube, minus kitchen roll.  This will be no problem as you used the last of the kitchen roll up a few days ago when mopping up that biblical flood of wee.


Paints (or other mess making equipment)

Things to print with (optional).  We used a bit of Duplo, a sticklebrick, a cotton reel, a pine cone, a star shaped stamp, a button and Rory's sleeve, although that wasn't in the original plan.  Child initiated activities and so forth.

The lentils/rice etc that you scraped up off the floor the other day.

Tin Foil

An empty tin

A balloon

Things to hit a pretend drum with. (pencils?)



Risk assessment:
Risk of child eating dried lentils: Very high.
Risk of child injuring self on tin can despite you childproofing it: Very high
Risk of child attempting to eat balloon: Yeah, you'd think this wasn't even a consideration but it turns out to be pretty high.

Amount of time it wastes in the never ending day:
You have to do this in 3 stages:  

Decorating paper - about 20 minutes
Making instruments: 15 minutes
Breaking instruments: 3 seconds.

First, you need to decorate two sheets of A4 paper.  I decided that we would print on ours to give our instruments an aesthetically pleasing tribal motif.  I can only guess that I forgot to take my medication last night and was having some sort of manic delusion of grandeur.  Rory quite happy to print for approximately 30 seconds and then it descended into the usual finger/hand/elbow painting chaos.  

When the paper is dry, glue it around your kitchen roll tube.  Rory immediately located some Balamory stickers under the sofa and set about bastardising the pleasing tribal effect with PC Plum's curmudgeonly face.

Cut two circles of paper a bit bigger than the ends of the tube (by, for example, drawing around the wine glass that you've been gazing longingly at since 10am).  Make little snips around the edge of the circle and bend them upwards, then fix the circle to the end of the tube with lots of tape.

Fashion some big twisty spiral shapes out of tin foil that will just about fit into the tube and stuff them in, then get child to sprinkle lentils into tube.  

Stick the other circle of paper to the other end of the tube as before.

Demonstrate enthusiastically and hand to child as if presenting them with one of the seven wonders of the world.

Watch helplessly as child deftly removes one of the ends and tips lentils all over the sofa.  

Weep inwardly and feel like useless, unappreciated mother as child flings the tube to one side and shrieks with joy as he throws lentils everywhere.

But it's OK!  You have a second instrument to make!  What toddler could fail to be impressed by a drum?  Here we go with instrument number two:

Child proof your empty tin can by sticking lots of brown tape over the sharp edge.

Leave room to fetch other sheet of decorated paper.

Return to room 10 seconds later to find child merrily picking all the brown tape off and running his finger speculatively around the razor sharp can edge.

Re-child proof tin can and glue the decorated paper around it.

Hide Balamory stickers to protect tribal design.

Cut end off balloon and stretch it over the open end of the tin.  Secure with an elastic band.

Demonstrate hitting drum with a pencil.  It actually makes quite an impressive noise.  What child could fail to be won over by that?

Mine.  He hits it about 3 times then pulls the elastic band off, removes the balloon skin and recommences removing the tape in his quest to sever his fingers.  Ungrateful little...

At this point I remove the tin from his grasp, put Tellytubbies on and stomp off to the kitchen to aggressively load the dish washer.

Rory wanders through after a few minutes, leaving a trail of lentils in his wake.

"What you doing Mummy?" he asks, amiably.

Dying inside, Rory.  Dying inside.

Monday, 29 August 2011

In Pursuit of Smugness

Wouldn't it be lovely to be smug?  How satisfying it must feel to be so complacent and pleased with yourself that you can go to bed every night thinking nothing more than "well done me".  As someone who goes to bed every night thinking "oh well" or, occasionally, "pffff", I'd quite like some of that.

I first became aware of the concept of smugness in primary school.  Every day in assembly I sat behind the same girl in my year.  She was bright, she was keen, she excelled at netball (I, on the other hand, excelled at getting hit in the face by the ball whilst missing the net entirely), she always had her hand up in class, she didn't spend lunchtime playing perilous chasing games with the boys, preferring to stand in a circle of giggling girls, making up dances to chart songs, and to top it all off she had smug hair.  You know what smug hair is, right?  There's a girl with it in every class.  Every morning, her mum sent her to school with a perfect french plait, and every afternoon she went home, hair still in that perfect french plait and not sticking out in all directions.  My mum couldn't even do a french plait and even if she could, a) she would never have had time to do one before school because we were always late and b) I have the sort of hair that defies all attempts at restraint and gets dishevelled just by being looked at, so it would have been a futile gesture.  There is a woman who lives on the same road as me who has smug hair (shiny, perfect, straight, probably looks that way when she gets out of bed).  She is also skinny and perfectly groomed even though she has a little girl (with perfect french plait of course), a toddler and a baby.  I can't even find a pair of jeans without a snail trail of PVA glue all over them in the morning and I only have one child.  What hope is there for me?  I hate her a little bit.  OK, quite a lot.

Smugness looks like a perfect french plait.  It smells of freshly baked bread with a hint of furniture polish.  It is the sound of a child playing happily in one designated corner of the room and not breaking anything, having put the toys it was playing with before that away in one of the colour co-ordinated stacking boxes.  It tastes of peppermint tea made with freshly boiled water and mint just picked from the garden, brewed in an Emma Bridgewater teapot.  If smug was a person, it would be Annabel Karmel, or that Gina Ford cow.

My life looks like something fell off a high shelf and exploded.  It smells and tastes pretty much of Batchelors Pasta n Sauce made in a saucepan with the non stick surface coming off in flakes, and last time I tuned in, the main sound was Ringo Starr narrating Thomas the Tank Engine.

I went to bed last night having failed (as usual) to provide a mouthwatering Sunday lunch for my husband and child.  Instead, I only remembered that food was a necessity at around 6.30 (by which point most of the children of my Facebook friends were in bed according to their status updates. Gah) and produced a nutritious tea of fish fingers, tinned spaghetti and frozen sweetcorn for all. And the tinned spaghetti was from Aldi.  Having also failed to do any housework, and after the maggot in the chutney incident of a couple of days ago, I decided that I had some ground to make up, so this morning when I woke at 6.15, I decided to go in pursuit of the smugness that so often eludes me.

Fifteen minutes later I was kneading bread dough in the kitchen.  Half an hour after that I had apple compote bubbling away on the stove while the bread proved by the radiator.  Within an hour, I'd done all the ironing and the bread was in the oven.  At this point I opened the kitchen window a crack because I could see John From Next Door in his garden and I wanted the scent of freshly baking bread and apple and cinnamon to waft out towards him because last time he saw me I was in the garden getting the washing in, swearing disgustingly as I dropped it all in the mud and screaming like a fishwife through the back door at Rory to take his willy out of his Petits Filous.  Take that John From Next Door: I am Nigella Goddamn Lawson and I am very smug about it.  See how I got up before everybody else and made bread?  See how I concocted a delicious preserve using freshly picked apples? See how...oh bollocking Nora, I've set the oven gloves on fire again.

At this point, Richard and Rory came downstairs, sniffing their air appreciatively.  Rory immediately set about sitting on his potty and crimping off a massive Mister Whippy shaped turd which had the effect of killing all delectable kitchen aromas stone dead.  Meanwhile, Richard walked into the kitchen, looked about and said "It's a mess in here isn't it?"  I said nothing but have mentally added it to my list of unreasonable things that he has done for future use in the divorce courts, along with bringing me home a present of an out of date yoghurt from the fridge at work which nobody else wanted and teaching Rory to say "crack on mummy" when he asks for something.

The bread didn't rise properly and sat in our stomachs like a soggy brick.  I washed mine down with a swig of Diet Coke from the bottle then went in search of biscuits.  I give up.  I am the anti-smug.  Who wants to join me?

Saturday, 27 August 2011


Autumn begins every year with an apr├Ęs festival trip to visit the in-laws.  Every year we come home with carrier bags full of apples and damsons from their fruit trees and laden down with jars of homemade jam.  Every year I promise faithfully to do home maker type things with them.  Every year I start off enthusiastically by making apple compote and then forget about them until one day Richard wonders where the rancid smell is coming from and unearths a bag of rotting wild plums and some brown apples.  I fail at being a housewife.

This year will be different though.  MIL has passed on her damson jam recipe for me to cock up and I am determined to use everything up in true domestic goddess style.  This is partly because my in-laws hate waste of any kind and I don't want to incur their wrath, but mainly because of my secret desire to recreate the CBeebies picnic from their autumn song complete with rustic bread, check tablecloth and home made preserves.

So, here are the damsons and eating apples:

See how I emptied them all into a basket and put that 1960s tint and a vignette on the photo? That is a blog writer trick to make you think that I live in a glorious, smug, aspirational world in a perfect shabby chic house with roses around the door and the whole family seated around a scrubbed pine farmhouse table every meal time, sharing happy banter as we pull chunks off of the home made bread and spread it with freshly churned butter from the farm next door.

Here are the cooking apples. I think the technical term for the amount is 'a bitch load'.

See how I couldn't be arsed with tipping them into a basket and making the photograph look pretty?  That's my real life, right there.

Today I decided to make damson and apple chutney.  For those of you who fancy having a cook along, I used this recipe as a starting point, but attacked it with my usual slapdash attitude (don't weigh or measure anything, chuck it all in a pan and ignore anything that claims to require mincing).  I also had a secret ingredient, but you'll need to wait to find out what that was.

So, I started by using my MIL's tip for getting the stones out of the damsons - simmer them with a little water in a pan for a bit, put the lot through a colander and pick all the stones out of the mush. Wasn't prepared for it to look quite as much like innards as it did, nor for my fingers to turn pink, and neither did I expect it to take half an hour, but I got there in the end.  Tricky bit done, I threw the rest of the ingredients in and gave it a prod every 10 minutes or so.

Here it is, simmering nicely, bits of chutney and damson all over the kitchen.  Look at the state of that, that's going to take ages to scrub off the tiles and the hob.  Sorry, I mean that's going to take Richard ages to scrub off the tiles and the hob.

All was smelling good, I had my jars in the oven to sterilize and I was twiddling my thumbs for a bit, so I started to clear up the mess from the mass damson de-stoning exercise.

It was at that point that I noticed the maggot.

Yes, there in the colander was a very tiny, almost so small that it didn't exist but very definitely there maggot.


Now, the pre-medication Lisa is having a meltdown and jumping up and down and waving her hands about in that dance you do when something is disgusting, but the Sertraline Queen is thinking "hmmm, protein" and pondering that it can't be that bad seeing as the mixture boiled for 2 hours, so surely all maggot related bacteria will have been destroyed.  Plus, they eat maggots in some countries, right?

I will put it to the public vote.  if more of you think it's disgusting than think it's acceptable, I will throw away my domestic goddess batch of chutney.  If you think it's OK, I will cheerfully eat it.  It's not like I'm giving it to anyone for Christmas or anything.  (Although....).  You decide.

Note that I couldn't even be bothered to soak the old labels off the jars or wipe the smears off from where I stuffed chutney into them and missed.  Ladies and gentlemen, that's just the way I roll.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Naughtiness, Thy Name Is Rory

We need a new vacuum cleaner.  Oh how we need a new vacuum cleaner. Ours is ancient but was chugging along quite nicely until Rory got wind of how to use it.  Ever since then, I have had to dismantle it several times and poke various household items out of it with a coat hanger. These have included the majority of my son’s socks, my wedding ring, a wealth of playdough, the front door key and a cheese sandwich.  I think it was the cottage cheese incident which finally killed it though (one of the worst sounds a parent can hear emanating from the living room is a two year old exclaiming “oh no! Cottage cheese ALL OVER PLACE”, followed by the sound of the Hoover being turned on and the squelching of said cottage cheese as it gets sucked up the nozzle).  I must point out here that I am not a terrible parent who ignores my child while he plays with electrical items – I simply worked out early on that if I wanted to get any housework done I had to involve Rory, and he was particularly charmed by the vacuum cleaner.  Being an intelligent sort, he worked out how to plug it in pretty quickly and although he knows that he is under no circumstances allowed to do this, the cottage cheese incident was a one off.  The naughty step was well occupied that day, I can tell you.

So, when I saw that Dirt Devil were running a competition to win £200 worth of their products, I really felt I should enter, partly because of our desperate need for a vacuum that doesn’t smell of month old cottage cheese and partly because the competition asks you to blog about the naughtiest thing your child has ever done.


It’s hard to know where to begin really.  Rory is now a relatively biddable (if mischievous) toddler, but he was the baby that nightmares are made of up until he hit around 18 months.  There was the time he cracked an egg down the back of the radiator when the central heating was on, resulting in a sort of instant omelette that had to be prised off in eggy clumps with a stick. There was the time that he ate page 64 of the Christmas Radio Times and then vomited it up in various secret places around the lounge.  There was the time he worked out that water made his Aquadraw mat change colour, so he removed his nappy and did a big wee on it.  There is the time that we only ever refer to as The Great Toilet Paper Incident Of 2010.  It really is hard to know which to pick.

I decided, in the end, to share with you something that he did shortly before Christmas last year.  He was 18 months old and going through a phase of finding his pushchair to be an absolute abomination.  Unfortunately, this coincided with a great deal of snow.  He took exception to the snow and refused to walk in it and as I don’t drive, this led to us not leaving the house for days on end.  Cabin fever had set in, we had watched The Snowman so many times that Aled Jones had started to appear to me in my dreams and damn it, I just needed to get out in the fresh air for half an hour.  So, I sought the advice of friends on how to coax him into the pushchair.

The advice was as follows:

  1. Get his favourite toy dressed to go outside as part of the going outside routine. Turn it into a game.
  2. Make putting his outdoor clothes on a fun activity with lots of songs and silly faces.
  3. If he still resists, threaten to leave the house without him.
  4. As a last resort, walk out of the door without him and pretend to leave, then stand by the door and await his screams of displeasure. This is your cue to open the door and say “well if you want to come too you need to get in the pushchair.

Genius.  This is how it went:

*Start the whole leaving the house routine by dressing Les the Meerkat up in socks and a hat.  Improvise a little scarf from a J-cloth.

*Tell Rory that he's going to get ready to go out just like Les.

*Shove outdoor clothes on Rory. As fast as I get them on him, he removes them. 

*Try being fun and silly with the clothes. La la la, this is all just a funny game. He kicks me in the face.

*Hold him down with one elbow and wrestle clothes on to his helpless body.

*Briefly wonder if holding my child down with my elbow would be frowned upon by the health visitor then push all such thoughts aside because, seriously, we haven’t left the house in four days.

*Attempt to put him in the pushchair all the while singing "this is the way we leave the house" with a moderately unhinged air.

*Rory goes rigid and then proceeds to flail about until I get kicked in the face again.  The pushchair is propelled backwards several feet and one of his shoes flies off in the struggle.

*I strap Les the Meerkat into the pushchair with lots of "Oh Wow Les, you are so good and so brilliant and we're going to have so much fun going outside."

*Wonder how my life came to this.

*Tell Rory that if he doesn't get into the pushchair and be a good boy JUST LIKE LES, then me and Les are off to the shop without him, where we will purchase Milky Bar Buttons and a new CBeebies magazine.

*Another boot in the face whilst trying to strap him in.

*Les the Meerkat and mummy leave the house saying "bye then Rory, we'll be off now."

*Rory waves us goodbye.

*I shut the door and await the screams.

*All is quiet.

*Where are the screams of anguish?  I WAS PROMISED SCREAMS OF ANGUISH.

*I peep through the window. Rory has strolled off to the kitchen and is helping himself to cheese from the fridge.

*Give in.  Sit on sofa with Les the Meerkat in his winter collection in one hand and a lump of cheddar in the other, watching the Snowman for the 24th time in two weeks and rocking almost imperceptibly backwards and forwards. 

*Rory sticks his head up the chimney again.  Splendid.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Green Man 2011

When we decided to take Rory to Green Man festival last year, people reacted with poorly disguised horror. I am well known for my obsessive compulsive quirks and allergy to just about everything that exists outdoors (grass pollen, tree pollen, leaf mould, the sun...) and the implication was that I would be a weeping, sneezing, itching, sunburnt, soggy mess of unfit mother by the end of the first day.  They did not count on three things:  1. I love a good festival and am prepared to consume antihistimines by the handful for three days if that's what it takes to get me through one. 2. My new found fondness for mood stabilising medication.  3. Green Man is not your average festival.  It's different.

It's different for many reasons, but mainly because of the people.  Everyone's there for the music and nobody is there just to be seen or with the sole intention of getting messily drunk (that lot are at V, which tends to fall on the same weekend).  That and the exhilaratingly beautiful backdrop of the black mountains make Green Man the most laid back and enjoyable festival that we have ever been to. It's also amazing for families. It's a comfortable place to take a child, with an unspoken understanding that everyone looks out for each other, especially those with kids.  As Rory made one of his many escape attempts through the crowds this year, I noticed a lot of people watching him run, then looking around to check that there was a parent hot on his tail.  "Want me to grab him?" asked another dad on a similar mission for his escapee toddler as I dashed past.  "No need", I shouted back, putting on a sprint, "I'll catch the little bugger in a minute".  This is what brings us back again and again.

Mind you, going to a festival with your small child is an entirely different experience to attending without one.  Gone are the days of going through the programme with a highlighter pen, working out how best to see 60 bands over the course of three days.  Now we camp out at the main stage most of the time, sometimes venturing into the more child friendly areas (more about them later).  There is no more lying on the grass, pleasantly drunk on cider, eyes shut, absorbing in the music.  Any attempt at this will result in two stone of toddler jumping squarely on your stomach with a gleeful cry of "PILE ON MUMMY".  There will be no drinking of alcohol as smalls love nothing better than filching your food and drink and you will be forced to down a pint in 20 seconds with a whining child hanging off your leg repeating "Rory have a tiny bit. Please Rory have a tiny bit" ad nauseam.  Also, you're not going to be able to see any of the headliners because it's well past bedtime.  What there will be are a lot of attempts on the small child's part to jump into whichever pond/quagmire is closest, a fair amount of whinging, a trip to the children's area and an awful lot of ice creams.  It's also helpful to note that, while children are not exactly quieter outside, they are definitely less concentrated, in that their manic energy and ear splitting shrieks have no walls to bounce off, and therefore they are much less migraine inducing.

As for the actual performances, some will fare better than others against the tyranny of a toddler.  This year, the Avett Brothers gave a performance so amazing that even Rory trying to push his father and I in to a big thorny bush throughout failed to mar it.  The Burns Unit fared pretty well even though he sang Meet The Veggies from Mr Bloom's Nursery most of the way through their set, and he was lulled into near compliance and quiet by Dry The River.  However, The Leisure Society didn't fare so well as he was throwing a paddy about not wanting to eat a pie out of a box throughout most of their set, Robyn Hitchcock might have been brilliant, but I'll never know as I spent the entire time chasing Rory up and down the hill as he made a bid for freedom, and poor Laura Marling's sweet, fragile vocals didn't stand a chance against my son announcing at the top of his voice to all within a 50 metre radius that he had "got BIGGEST POO IN WHOLE WORLD LURKING UP BOTTOM," which was not really getting into the spirit of things, although you have to admire his use of the verb 'to lurk'.

On the bright side, he ate a lot less insects than he did last year and was able to walk for longer periods, which is kinder on your back when you're heaving a pushchair about.  He was chuffed with his wrist band, especially after we told him that pressing it makes the music get louder, after which he spent much of his time standing, legs apart, arms aloft Thundercats style, pressing it and shouting "ROCK POWER".  Also, he was old enough to appreciate parts of the Future Generations children's area this year and happily plopped himself down on the floor in a tent and looked through a huge selection of books and played with all the action men while Rich and I relaxed for a bit.  There is also have the beautiful Einstein's Garden - a large area dedicated to fun sciencey activities with a solar powered stage which features quirky bands playing throughout the day so you don't feel that you've been deprived of your music fix while you play splat the rat with your child.  Rory was particularly enamoured with this area, as he was last year, and had lots of fun squishing clay about, swinging on a hammock, conversing with some chickens and impaling other people's dads on construction sticks.  He also pulled in the gypsy caravan, which his father found quite commendable.  We also managed to take it in turns to babysit, me putting Rory to bed while Rich went back and saw Explosions in the Sky, and Rich taking him up the tree house while I had the pleasure of watching an unexpected performance by John Cooper Clarke in the Literature tent

On the last night, he finally fell asleep mid way through The Low Anthem, which we found rather appropriate as they are one of our bands of choice to listen to on our rare child free evenings (Me: "what are you putting on?" Rich: "The Low Anthem." Me: "Great.  There's some of those Gu chocolate pots in the fridge, do you want one?" Rich: "Hell yes.  And some wine.  There must be wine."  Me: "I'm going to eat mine lying on my back on the floor because there's nobody here to jump on me." Rich: "Good call." And so another night is spent lying in silence on the laminate flooring, eyes shut, savouring the very child-free-ness of it all).  As he finally succumbed to sleep, we sat on the grass and allowed our bodies to relax after a weekend that, like the occasional child free night after weeks of extreme parenting, was all the better for chasing a little boy up through the crowds, eating too much ice-cream and rolling down the hill over and over again until we hurt from laughing.  During the whiney bits, we'd briefly discussed the possibility of going on our own next year so we can have a drink, but I know we'll take him with us because he enjoys it so much, and I'd miss our crazy little mate if he wasn't there.

On the journey back home, Rory was quieter than usual, worn out from a combination of fresh air, sunshine and late nights and humming quietly to himself.  "Liked all that rock and roll" he announced happily while kicking the back of my seat.  Welcome to the fold little muso baby.  I can't wait for you to make me a mix tape.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Pack It In

There are piles of stuff all over my floor.  This isn’t that unusual in itself; said piles usually consist of crumbs, toy cars, discarded Mini Babybels with one bite taken out of them, every Thomas the Tank Engine book ever written – that sort of thing.

Tonight, though, we have piles of clothes, of wellies, of medicines and of snacks to eat in the car.  It can only mean one thing: We are going on holiday and tonight is Packing Night.

Have you ever attempted to pack for a baby or toddler?  I thought it was bad when it was just the two of us.  I thoroughly loathe going on holiday, and nothing brings out the combination of my chronic OCD and wretched inability to organise myself (a pretty unusual combination it must be admitted) than having to pack for such an event.  But when you throw a very small child into the mix, it becomes a form of torture akin to having pointy objects repeatedly jabbed into your eyes.

It’s not quite as bad this time because now Rory’s a bit older, we don’t need to take the colossal travel cot along with a load of bed sheets, Grobags and so on.  He’s now big enough to sleep in a normal bed, so as long as we remember Les the Meerkat we’re good to go.  We also don’t need a breast pump, sterilising equipment and a Moses basket, which is pretty fortunate because that will make room in the car for the metric f*ck-tonne of Duplo, Thomas the Tank Engine paraphernalia and 64 toy cars that we are going to have to take.  This is before we even consider the clothing crisis.

We’re going to a festival, which means that Rory is going to need: clothes, clothes to change into when his other clothes get soaked from the rain, clothes to change into when he goes face down in the mud wearing his spare clothes and clothes to wear when he spills copious amounts of *something* down his second spare set of clothes.  Also, a raincoat, a waterproof all-on-one, wellies, baby wipes galore, snacks with the word ‘organic’ on the packet so that we don’t look like we feed our child rubbish in front of all the hippies (if he actually eats one of the wholesome looking sweetened-only-with-grape-juice cereal bar things you can spank my backside and call me Dave, but it doesn’t hurt to try). 

So, here we are surrounded by various piles.  Richard has gone into organisation mode.  I have gone into denial.  I am also being very precious about the packing because he doesn’t understand the system that I have that is all in my head, and he’s made a spreadsheet and OH MY GOD, HE MUST BE KILLED. 

I have been banished to the computer and I’m fretting that he’s not using the zip-loc freezer bags to the best effect.  Also, will he remember to pack a range of carrier bags for dirty laundry?  I bet he won’t.  And then where will we be?  Eh Richard?  At least Rory’s in bed so we’re spared his usual onslaught of anarchy.  I might go to bed too in a minute and perhaps take the peanut M&Ms for the car journey with me for a small cuddle.

Oh, and where are we spending this little vacation?  A Travel Lodge in Merthyr Tydfil – the third worst town in the UK.  I’ll send you a postcard.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Curly Locks

My son had his hair cut yesterday afternoon and already he looks like he’s been rolling about in the bushes after experimenting with a range of exceptionally sticky hair products and/or golden syrup.  The poor lad has inherited my unruly hair, and although he doesn’t realise it now, a lifetime of hair related woe awaits him.

I fight a daily battle against the tangle of horrid that passes for my locks.  It’s naturally curly, but in an irregular, ridiculous sort of way – a ringlet here, a scrunchy bit there, a silly fluffy bit to one side and so on.  On a good day, after liberal applications of serum, taming cream, deep conditioner – basically anything lard based, it looks like this:

(which would have been a lovely picture if it didn’t look like Rory was screaming at me.  He was actually yawning, but it just makes me look like an unfit mother whose baby hates her).

On a bad day, it resembles a permed Brillo pad.  On a seriously bad day, it is defiantly pubic in texture. It also has fried ends and broken bits as a result of years of attacking it with straightening irons.  To make matters worse, I have started to go grey at an alarming rate and the grey hairs stick straight up in the air like springs.  This is not a good look.  My neat freak ex hated it (and this was in the days before the grey started to invade).  My husband complains when his fingers get stuck in it.  But my mother, of course, loves it.  In her head, I am still her adorable, curly haired little girl and her fingers itch to twirl those springy ringlets like she did when I was Rory’s age. 

I have spent my life tussling with it and treating it with contempt.  The thing about curly hair is how unpredictable and dishevelled it makes you look.  I have ever looked neat in my life.  It doesn’t matter how much I try to groom myself (not much these days, to be fair), I always have a few uncontrollable kinks and strands of frizz sticking out at odd angles, making me look a little unbalanced. 

Last November, I got so sick of it that I had it cut off.  Wild eyed through lack of sleep, surrounded by bits of Duplo, half chewed crayons and bits of squashed banana, with a loud and demonstrative 18 month old running rings around me, I wanted order in my life.  The hair had to go.  My hairdresser was reluctant, but I convinced her to chop it into a nice shiny bob (somewhat hampered by the opinionated old biddy having her blue rinse done in the corner of the room, AKA The Voice of Doom: "I knew somebody who had lovely long hair like yours once and had it cut off.  It never grew back again", came the prophecy.  "Your little boy won't recognise his mummy", she continued.  "He'll probably cry when he sees you." God love the aged).  It was amazing – smooth and glossy, neat, it only took a couple of minutes to dry every morning; it was a revelation.  I started to wear smarter clothes and became more organised.  Life was more by design and less haphazard. A hair cut really can change your life.  I was a convert.

Well, I was a convert for the first two weeks, which were, incidentally, dry and crisp outside with a light layer of frost.  On the third week, the rain started.  Wow.  Frizz on an epic scale, worse than ever before because there was no length of hair to weigh it down, so it stuck out horizontally from my head like a ridiculous, fuzzy, hat.

Ever since then, I have been going through the long and painful process of growing it back.  I have banned GHDs from my life to prevent it from getting too damaged at the ends while it grows and am learning to embrace the curl.  OK, it’s messy and tangly and erratic, but then, so am I.  I have been disorganised and vague for my entire life so far and it appears to be my default setting.  I am creative and jumbled and nearly always late.  That is who I am.  I spent years feeling guilty about it in the workplace, where everyone else seemed to be highly organised, and I definitely caused frustration to people who don’t function the way I do.  But I don’t work for anybody at the moment.  I run the household, I look after my son, I am responsible for my life, and I will do it the way I choose and the way that suits me.  If we live in disorder, then so be it.  It seems to suit Rory, who has defied routine from the earliest possible opportunity and is overjoyed with surprise events.  I suspect that, along with my crazy hair, he has also inherited my propensity towards the chaotic.  His messed up, cheeky angel curls make me smile, and for the first time ever, so do mine.  When I watch him running about the house wearing one sock and nothing else, a range of food remains lodged in his hair, stuffing grapes into Richard’s trainers, I look down at my own odd socks and survey the mess of abandoned, half finished projects on the dining table and am delighted that finally there is somebody else like me.  I’ll make sure I buy him a good hair gel when he’s old enough though.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Food of Love

There are about 2000 CDs in my house (and this is after a recent cull), various cupboards rammed full of vinyl and 65 days worth of music on iTunes, all lovingly collected over a period of around 20 years by my music geek husband and I.  Everything is nerdily alphabetised apart from the compilations, which are organised by genre.  We have playlists for every possible occasion.  Much of our early relationship revolved around music – listening to it, talking about it, going to see bands.  Even Richard’s career was built around it (not mine though, hence the heated discussion of October 2006: “I don’t care if you work in the music industry Richard, you cannot wear ripped jeans and a band t-shirt to my school harvest festival service”).

I’ll tell you why: We had a child.

It is at this point in time that I would like to refute my husband’s claim that having a child doesn’t automatically rob you of your taste in music.  I would also like to take this opportunity to mock him for stating that having a baby would be “a bit like having a cat”, but we’ll save that one for a rainy day.

Richard was convinced from the outset that he could educate Rory into having a varied and superior musical taste by playing him a different classic album every night.  There he would sit in our darkened music room (which now contains all the commercial plastic tat that we swore our child would never be allowed to play with), his infant son in the crook of his arm as he fed him his bottle and talked him through the finer points of Johnny Cash.

“I think he liked that one”, he’d say hopefully as Rory stared blankly into the distance and occasionally did a bit of sick.  But the truth was, the only music that Rory responded to in the slightest for the first 8 months of his life was when one of us would sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot to him while we attempted to rock him to sleep.  I never did like that song, and standing in the middle of our pitch black living room at some ungodly hour, singing it over and over again to my insomniac baby in the certain knowledge that everyone else in the country was asleep at that moment in time, the bastards, remains the loneliest point in my life.  I would happily never hear it again, ever.

One morning somewhere around Rory’s first birthday, I came downstairs to find my husband and child pogoing around the kitchen to what could only be described as a savage assault on my eardrums.  It turned out to be the Mrs Goggins song on the Postman Pat album (link handily provided so you can listen to part of this oral assailant yourselves), kindly donated to us by one of the record labels that Rich consulted with.  I had never seen my son so elated.  Listening to the album further unearthed such gems as Robot Rampage, Stop That Cake and a song about a parrot who likes bananas done in the style of mediocre Brit Poppers, The Lightning Seeds.  “MORE, MORE!  MORE PAT!”  shouted Rory, and, delighted that he was, for once, not throwing fruit at Mr Tumble on the telly or putting his cheese on toast in the washing machine, we were only too happy to oblige.

Since then, he has developed a penchant for Shaky (Richard’s guilty pleasure) and the theme from Shaft.  He is also fond of The Wheels on the Bus, Five Little Peas and the theme tune from Raa Raa the Lion.  Oh, and the Bing Bong Song.  I’m made to sing that particular piece of torture at least 50 times a day.  Any attempts to educate him otherwise have failed entirely, apart from when I attempt to take him to Rhyme Time at the library, where he brings shame upon us by doing knee slides across the floor and muttering “no like this Rhyme Time, I want rock and roll”, then taking himself off to sulk in the box with the tambourines and shaky eggs in it.

Rich and I have adapted to this pretty well and humour him whenever the occasion permits.  We dance to buskers on the street, I belt out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the top of my voice as we skip down the road to playgroup and it’s not unusual to see all three of us spontaneously break in to the Footloose dance routine in the middle of B&Q.  I think Richard has accepted that his son's musical education might have to wait a few more years.

Except I have a secret:  When Rory was just a wriggly baby bump, I discovered that I could stop his constant punching and kicking and squiggling about by singing to him.  It had to be a certain song though, and the song of choice was Bob Dylan’s Abandoned Love.  It’s a song that reminds me of the last few months of my teacher training, specifically of sitting in the car with my dad as we drove through the North Yorkshire countryside one morning, both of us singing along, windows wound right down, my dad joyously providing air harmonica.  As well as that, it’s a song that I associate with being pregnant even though the lyrics have no relevance at all.  When Rory was born, I continued to sing it to him, but only when we were on our own.  It usually stopped him from crying when nothing else worked.  As he’s got older, it has become our song.  He climbs on my lap and asks for “the mummy’s tummy song” and I put it on (he favours the Everly Brothers cover version, controversially) and both of us sing along while he throws his arms around my neck. “Heart telling me, LOVE YOU STILL” he bellows into my ear before launching into an air harmonica impression that his grandfather should be proud of. 

“I love you too Rory,” I say, kissing his forehead. 

He smiles up at me and touches my face and I think how lucky I am to have this beautiful, warm and clever little person cuddling up to me. 

“Now sing the Bing Bong Song, mummy,” he says. 

God, children are annoying.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Things To Do With Your Child #5: Pretend Cooking

And lo, another Friday afternoon is upon us.  Exhaustion and apathy are flourishing. Rory is sitting under the dining table playing with all manner of pointy objects and plastic bags and mummy is mainlining chocolate buttons, counting down the hours until daddy gets home.  How are we going to get through the last three hours of the working week?  Sigh, come on then, lets make another almighty mess….


You will need:
A selection of saucepans, spoons, sieves, ladles, bowls and other kitchen equipment.

Some form of dry, sprinkly food like pasta, rice, lentils, Rice Krispies, Cornflakes or oats.  We used lentils because I had some out of date ones in the cupboard after a completely out of character attempt at making a horrible Annabel Karmel recipe with them when Rory was a baby. Needless to say, he took one mouthful then looked at me as though I deserved to die. They have not been touched since.

Selective mess blindness.

Risk assessment:
However well you tidy up, you are going to be finding lentils/rice/oats for the next 8 months.  Get over it.

Amount of time it wastes in the never ending day:
He played with this on and off over the course of 2 hours, then happily joined in the clean-up operation for 20 minutes.  Excellent.

Set all your stuff out and let your child take over.  Rory did a lot of very serious stirring and pouring from one container to another, then spent a while trying to stuff spoonfuls of dried lentils into my mouth whilst insisting that they tasted of strawberries.  When he tired of that, we buried each others hands, and then I dropped lots of coins into the lentils and he sieved for buried treasure.  I sat idly next to him talking to him and enjoying the therapeutic effects of letting hundreds of lentils run through my fingers over and over again.  We also discovered that lentils cover a pleasing distance when a handful is thrown with the appropriate force.

When he eventually tired of this game, I scooped up as many lentils as I could and put them in a container for another day (might do something arty with these at a later date. Any ideas anyone?) and got the trusty vacuum cleaner out.  Rory overjoyed at being allowed to hoover up all the lentils which kept him busy for another 20 minutes, although this also meant that most of our worldly possessions were hoovered up at the same time, but, you know, swings and roundabouts.

Friday, 12 August 2011

How I Met Your Father

Richard is in disgrace.  He doesn’t know this yet, but he is. 

It started with a bit of reminiscing the other night – how we met, things we used to do, places we’d been etc etc.  All very nice.  It beats discussing our ongoing ant problem, which is the usual topic of conversation these days. (Ant Watch update for those who have been following the saga: No recent sightings of the little bleeders, but we now have a household slug to add to our menagerie of pestilence)

For the record, we met online - NOT via online dating; he used to read an old incarnation of my blog - shortly after his girlfriend of 6 years had split up with him and moved to London.  He was heartbroken and miserable.  I had been single (the flighty, man juggling type rather than the crazy cat lady variety) for about 2 years and was happy to provide counselling and advice from my corner of the internet.

“Have fun, sleep with unsuitable women, enjoy the time on your own and whatever you do, don’t get into another relationship for a long, long time,” I typed.

18 months later, I found myself walking down the aisle of my local church to marry him*, entirely convinced that I was doing the right thing, but baffled as to how I got there. 

As far as I remembered, we’d met for a drink after a couple of months of emailing, spent the entire time laughing at each other, he forgot his ex immediately and then…he was just there. 

A couple of months in, he mentioned that it might be a good idea if he moved in with me so we didn’t spend every weekend travelling between Harrogate and Manchester.  Probably a very sensible idea, I agreed, vaguely thinking that this might be something to consider in three or four months time.  Two weeks later, I had a flat full of man crap and a live in Richard.  A few months later, I had a nice sparkly ring on my finger and my mother was wiping the sweat off her brow after being convinced that I’d never settle down after the messy break-up I’d had with my ex two years previously.

In retrospect, this is all a bit disconcerting, and even though I’ve been with him for 5 years now (and married for 4), I do sometimes wonder if one day he’ll wake up in horror when he realises that he accidentally married his rebound fling and had a child with her.

My mistake was questioning him about this. 

“Why exactly did you decide you wanted to marry me when you were in no way ready to have another relationship?” I asked.

“Buying”, was his answer.

To explain, Richard works as a buyer.  When I met him, he was a music buyer (very attractive, that.  He was always taking me along to see up-and-coming bands, off to award ceremonies and on various VIP guest lists).  He then moved on to DVDs (lots of red carpet moments and film premieres) and I’m not allowed to talk about what he does now as it is a Top Secret Project. As most buyers do, he has the gift of the gab and endless charm.  He can talk anybody into anything and uses various dirty tricks to get the best deals.  He’s devoted to his job, knows his stuff and does it brilliantly.  And, apparently, he ‘bought’ me.

He looked at me like I was a bit simple.

“First rule of buying, Lise: Get in there before the competition.  You’re funny, you’re pretty, you’re low maintenance, you’re great.  If I could see the deal, other men would be able to, and one of them might have been ready to settle down. You don’t leave a good deal on the shelf if it’s not the right time – you snap it up and work out what to do with it later.”

“Interesting analogy, Richard.  Are you fond of your balls?”

“I don’t know what you’re bothered about, you were my best buying decision ever!” (wide eyes, palms upwards, wheeler dealer charm in full evidence).

“Keep talking.”

“And my second best buying decision was when I got that great deal on the Lost box set, and you know that set the industry standard for the retail price…”

So, there we have it.  Not only am I a prolonged rebound fling, I am also a buying decision, albeit a particularly astute one.  Romance is not dead, it’s just interchangeable with media procurement.

*Looking back, I should have taken this as a warning that he was going to ignore everything I advised him to do for the rest of our lives.  Bugger.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Things To Do With Your Child #4: Decoupage

Wait a minute, this is all sounding rather technical and professional.  Never fear my friends, decoupage is just a grown up word for sticking stuff on things and getting glue all over the shop.


You will need:
Something to stick stuff on.  We used a big 3D cardboard letter R from Hobbycraft, but anything made from card or wood will do.  You may need to remind your toddler that cats do not like having stuff stuck on them, tempting though it may be.  If your child is really insistent about decoupaging a pet, I suggest a tortoise as their shell is probably quite compatible with this medium and also they can't move very fast.  

Stuff to stick on the thing to stick stuff on.  Paper works best.  Rip up lots of different coloured bits and pieces.  you can use wrapping paper, envelopes, magazines, newspapers etc.  I find the Boden catalogue to be highly useful here due to all the brightly coloured clothes and the fact that I can't afford anything from it anyway.  We used mainly fabric scraps because I make lots of clothes etc and leftover fabric is starting to take over our house.

PVA glue.  We used Mod Podge because I happened to have some hanging around, but ordinary PVA should be fine.

A paint brush

Risk assessment:
There is serious potential for a child to decoupage a priceless antique or their own face.  Please bear this in mind.

Amount of time it wastes in the never ending day:
Amount of time spent decoupaging the letter R: Approx 20-30 minutes.
Amount of time spent following me around looking contrite while I chiselled Mod Podged bits of fabric off the legs of dining table: Approx 15 minutes.
Amount of time spent picking glue off fingers whilst staring slack-jawed at The Tweenies: Eons.

Spread your glue all over the surface of the cardboard letter/box/decoration/tortoise that you plan to decoupage.

Un-stick child from cardboard letter/box/decoration/tortoise where they are bound to have flung themselves in joy at the sight of so much glue.

Allow them to stick the bits of paper/fabric all over it at random.  Remember here that things made by children tend to look quite rubbish.  This is OK though.  Abandon your inner perfectionist here and resist the temptation to take over and stick everything on so it looks nice.  Just let them do it how they want to do it.  You are not Mister Maker.

Apologies for the darkness of the photo and Rory's PJs.  We did this activity at you-must-be-f*****g-well-joking o'clock in the morning.

When they've finished, cut any overlapping edges off and put a layer of glue over the whole lot.

Leave to dry.


I was quite surprised at how little I needed to intervene with this activity.  Rory got really into it and held intense discussions with me about what colours and pictures he was going to put where and I just let him get on with it.  I think it's really nice for very small children to be able to make something almost entirely on their own.  Alas, he also took it upon himself to be creative upon the wall and the table all on his own, but we'll gloss over that bit.  He enjoyed this so much that I think I might buy all the other letters of his name and we'll do one every time we get bored.  In retrospect, it's a shame I didn't give him a nice long name like Englebert.