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Thursday at the HogHouse

Today began early – 3.36AM to be precise. This was when the Man-Hog’s ritual cries of epiglottis-shaking joy (or horror, who can tell?) breached the decibel tolerance levels of even the dead. The dead being me. Refraining from stuffing left-over dried apricots and last month’s Land Rover Monthly up his nose sideways, I decided instead to just get up and de-camp to the sitting room.

Sleep eluded me: mainly, I’ll admit, owing to a film about rugby on Anytime; always worth a watch and a sigh of once-youthful yearning. Two hours later, the somewhat thinly veiled troubled-teenager-nice thighs-but essentially a sod-finds rugby-coach turns out to be a brick-wins National playoff-changes life-wins girl plot whimpered to its final lame-ass conclusion and I was still wide awake watching the credits roll.

At this point, toast and a comfort vat of Ovaltine with extra sugar were the only obvious choices. As I slapped the butter on so thick it melted and ran like lava into my cleavage, I lifted a silent middle finger to cholesterol monitoring, WeightWatchers and Hogboy upstairs. Diets always start tomorrow, don’t they?

Cookery School starts at 5.30AM for those who are interested. It consists of a rotundly arrogant Chef (there’s a surprise – someone really should study the chef size to over-inflated ego ratio – there’s definitely a genetic link) undercooking meat in a frilly fashion whilst his female-totty-for-the-masses sidekick smiles sweetly as she assassinates the hopes and dreams of the victims – sorry, contestants. She even CROSSES THEIR NAMES OUT on a blackboard in front of them before they leave with the Chef’s Hat of Shame tucked into their undies. Heartless harpy.

Having despatched some poor woman in tears in this manner to lay her head in her inadequately pre-heated gas oven, I was left feeling FINALLY a little drowsy. The excitement had been too much. I drifted off.

My mobile shrilling in my ear heralded the start of today’s traumas. My pre-teen son has been at Chelsea football camp since Sunday, has worked super-humanly hard and was today supposed to be heading off to his reward – a tour of Stamford Bridge complete with dressing room sweat, a potential rub-up against an actual player, finishing with a presentation which his proud parents would attend in order to worship him.

Not to be. Viral plague; dehydration from unexpected and unseasonal sunshine; and/or a surfeit of Haribos consumed in a single sitting had done for him sometime in the night. Vomit was his task and Bucket his reward.

So I set off at just before 8AM after inadequate mumblings from the man in charge of hurling minors to drive the equivalent of the Paris-Dakar Rally to collect said Puker. I’m exaggerating OBVIOUSLY. You know me by now. But at that time of the morning and with unattractively wet hair (no time to primp for fit Chelsea coaching staff) it felt far! The dulcet sound of his nodding head clunking into the stainless steel bowl I forced him to hold in front of him all the way back will live with me a long time. It was like a lackadaisical steel band who simply couldn’t be arsed to stay in tune.

Since then, my day has been filled with intermittent gagging, loud shouts from Man-Hog of “Not on the carpets, Son!!!”, a Vesuvian pile of ironing, braving the supermarket for more butter (don’t say a word) and “When are we eeeaaaatttiiinnngggg?” on a plaintive wheedle loop from the older and clearly insensitive-to-situation Teen with the Bottomless Pit for a Stomach.

*Sigh* Motherhood? Marriage? Honestly? Poke it.

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Stranger than Fiction…

There are things about me that my children do not know. No – I’m not talking about those sorts of things, smutty people. I’m talking about weird and wonderful habits and foibles I have developed over the years that make me happy, cheer me up, or simply allow me to function properly.

In order of weirdness, they are:

1. Writing down the name of the rail station where my car is parked – on my hands. Yes, plural. So I don’t forget to get off the train at the right place. This is a good system until it gets cold or the lights go off in the train tunnel. Mittens play havoc with my personal SatNav. It can also look a little like a very sad, homemade tattoo – a display of solidarity support for various South-Eastern towns. For some towns, I am tempted to add M U V V A on my knuckles too.

2. Eating Heinz baby food for lunch. Secretly. In the office. I have a particular predilection for Lamb and Vegetable Risotto for main course followed by Apricot Custard for dessert. I like to eat them cold and straight from the tin. I justify it by telling myself they are low in salt and nutritionally balanced. They also mean I don’t have to chew – infinitely preferable to fighting my way down a French stick and bearing the facial scars to show for it.

3. “Discussing” things with inanimate objects: bags of dog food, pillows, the car dashboard etc. Some days, after a day in the office, it is the most sensible conversation I get. It’s not madness, it’s simply getting across my point of view. Always and without argument.

I could go on, there are many more. But you get the picture. 

Then, of course, there are the things they DO know about, and accept as absolutely normal:

1. I love model villages. Yes, really. Bekonscot has been known to make me faint.

2. I like “mini” things. The minier the better. My latest is mini dental floss. Awesome.

3. I have a violent aversion, resulting in acute gagging, to rubber gloves. Any colour, any thickness. I’m shuddering now. When I was having the children, I did my own examinations during labour. It was easier that way. Gross, but true, I’m afraid.

4. I absolutely, unequivocally and completely ADORE Julian Clary. Both as a man and a woman. In another life, I want to come back as his mother.

So, in consequence, it is a testament to my two wonderful mini-beasts that they are as normal and well-balanced as they appear to be. It certainly is not because of their upbringing. In these days of social instability; when parenting, environment and culture are being blamed for everything that is not quite right; it is a comfort to know that I have not been responsible for damaging them. That normality reigns, against all the odds. So far.

Now then, where did I put that teaspoon…..I’m hungry again.


I’m Bored….Summer Holidays Suck

“I’m bored…”. Two of the most overused, annoying and machine-gun-attack inducing words in the English language. Usually accompanied by flouncing, flopping, leaning etc. Ugh.

One and a half weeks in to the six-week summer holiday, and I have heard these words no less than 4,000,000 times already. As I write this, I am hiding in my office. Ostensibly working but actually in retreat from those words, those faces and those expectations. This is the bit they don’t tell you about becoming a mum. You also have to become a clown, magician, comedian, sports supremo and party planner ready to whoop up some fun and creativity at any given moment the children are not in school. Sadly, it is clear I just don’t have it in me to be all of those things, all of the time.

Only ten days of it so far, and I have already started to become sarcastic. I even suggested to someone on Twitter this morning that they might like to dart their hyper-active toddler with a safari-style tranquilliser gun. Stick a Haribo on the end and they’ll be mesmerised enough to let you get them square between the eyes. Anything for a few moments respite from “I’m bored….what can I do, Mum?”

There are many helpful blogs out there devoted to entertaining the kids (for free, in some cases) throughout the nightmare that is the school holidays. Most are aimed at younger children than mine and so simply do not apply. I have a pre-teen and a teen. One male, the other female. The combination alone is enough to induce a migraine. They never agree on what constitutes “fun”, and never will. So to retain my sanity, I have resorted to cynicism when it comes to what I am prepared to do to entertain them this holiday.

One of the depressing things about working from home is noticing that the ironing pile is bigger than me. 5ft 4 inches tall is one mo-fo of an ironing pile. And there’s more in the machine being washed as we speak. So this morning I suggested to the children that they lay all of the clothes out flat on the lawn and spend the day rolling over them until they got all the wrinkles out. That suggestion was met with blank stares.

The other bit about working from home is I am suddenly drawn to Delia Smith. First and foremost, you should know that I sometimes fantasise about stuffing Delia with apricots and breadcrumbs, wrapping her in tin-foil and shoving her into a pre-heated oven until she says sorry for making me and anyone else out there feel inadequate with her smug organisation. No-one smiles that much whilst making a spag bol unless they are chopping magic mushrooms. That aside, her recipes are easy enough for even a numpty like me to follow. Or Numpty’s children. So I have suggested several times over the past week or so that we could all make a nice meal for Dad/brownies for a picnic/phallus-shaped cookies to amuse Mum together, a way of whiling away the long hours between 11am when they rise from their pits to 10pm when I decide they either have to go to bed or be sold for medical experiments. None of my cooking mamma ideas have yet cut the mustard. I hate mustard anyway.

We are lucky enough to perch practically on top of tennis courts which are free to the public. When I suggest to the children we go and play tennis, they are – almost – enthusiastic. Only yesterday did I realise that this is because they can tag-team at one end to cleverly aim balls at anywhere except where my racket can reach and therefore have me running around like a maniac, sweating and turning puce much to their amusement. Even this nasty tennis-bullying, however, does not entertain them for more than thirty minutes. Only happy-slapping would do that. And to be honest, I am in danger of imminent cardiac arrest so tennis is most definitely off the menu.

Bike-riding is something they would like to do, but frankly I object on the grounds that nothing has ever been the same shape since double-ventouse deliveries. There is not a saddle known to man that does not make me pee, chafe or simply weep. So forget it, kids. When I suggest that older teen might like to take pre-teen out cycling around the lovely country lanes, that blank serial-killer stare greets me once more. Ditto swimming. It appears unless I am in the pool with all my wobbly bits on display for public- and offspring – ridicule, they are not happy to just let me sit at the side watching. Selfish mutts. They have no appreciation of the pain of the Brazilian that would be necessary before I can even don a swimming costume, not to mention the Hay Diet I would have to embark on which takes at least three months, I’ve been told. It’s not happening.

So here I am at Wits’ End. The only thing that appears to be interesting enough to illicit a grunt from Teen Girl is Chessington World of Over-Priced Crap. Except when we get there, she will be happy for ten minutes then want to go to Dubaiiiiii (said in a whine only she can perfect). Pre-Teen Boy is off on a football camp in eight days (and counting) – hoorah for the beautiful game. May it always release me from parental servitude! As for the remaining four weeks, I am already thinking they could dig their own holes under the patio and perhaps erect a springboard so they can somersault into them in creative ways before I cover them over and give them marks out of ten?

Hang on a mo – Social Services are at the door. How boring. Must dash.

Non means No….

I have just returned from a few days with friends in the south of France. We had a lovely time, despite truly British – dare I say Scottish – weather.

One of our jaunts out took us to the port of La Rochelle. I have fond memories of this place, having spent a riotous four days there in late 2009 on stopover prior to departing for an insane yacht race with ten other boats all the way to Rio de Janeiro. Good times – well, the bits I remember anyway.

Returning to La Rochelle the year after my return from Brazil with the family on holiday, I was mortified to be met with a hug and an effusive welcome by the proprietor of the port’s only Irish Pub – he apparently remembers me downing impressive quantities of some shocking cocktails called After Eights and thereafter dancing on the tables accompanied by other slightly inebriated sailor-type companions. It was not one of my finest parental moments – being displayed in front of my children – but they were so “Meh” about the whole thing that I believe I got away with it. Phew. Note to self: Must learn to lead children by example…..

But – staying on point – this visit included a mooch around the shops with our friends, where the children were amused to come across a series of Mr Men books written in French. The one that tickled our funny bone the most was “M. Non.” Just that – Monsieur Non. We fell about laughing on reading it, as we all immediately identified the elder male Stratton in the character – he who was browsing in a model-making shop at the time (because sensible people stay home and make models, not gad about the globe in glorified tin cans for the fun of it).

My husband – now M. Non forever more – is, let’s say, one who errs on the dark side. Not wholly negative, but not completely positive either. A planner and procrastinator. He’s most definitely a “No, but…” person when discussing ideas, people, concepts etc. whereas the rest of us are much more “But, yes…” He’s a “Can’t”, not “Let’s” person.

(Note: This “Non” does not, however, extend to bottles of French wine, for which he demonstrated much more “Mais oui!” this weekend than was good for him. Since his only failing here was to get louder in proportion to the quantity of wine consumed, this is a minor issue, although our poor friends may need to consult ear specialists this week as they recover from having us to stay.)

This inherent negativity has led to many clashes en famille as being with M. Non can somewhat limit spontaneity, creativity and simple learning through childhood (and adult) experiences. My son, for example, is protected from hurting himself with too much gung ho launching off walls and scaling of trees etc., by M. Non. He would say it is health and safety awareness, but I would argue that our son could also be less dexterous, less able to problem-solve and more cautious than he would otherwise be if allowed to experience more. My daughter is prevented from certain fashion choices and from experimenting too much with her hair. M. Non says non. But is that stifling her creativity, “cramping her style” or just his fatherly way of protecting her from peer ridicule?

It’s hard to know. I am a different animal altogether. I fight M. Non on many fronts myself. I believe in having a go, pushing boundaries and accepting the consequences as they happen. Not necessarily thinking about those consequences in advance. If I had, I would not have even been dancing on tables in La Rochelle, or scaring myself silly trying to manhandle a 68 foot bath-tub across the Atlantic for six weeks. “Non” is not a word I use much at all, unless we’re talking about tattoos or piercings on my daughter’s beautiful teenage person. That’s not so much “Non” as “Over my dead and rotted body.” Me and M. Non are, for once, in agreement on these issues.

But I do have to concede that without M. Non’s practicality, forward-thinking, hazard avoidance and foot-putting-down-ness then myself and the kids would teeter on the edge of potential disaster much more often than we do. While I find all that flying by the seat of my pants stuff terribly exciting, I do accept that it does not make for great parenting. Many meals and much of their formal education would be missed as we windsurfed our way across to the Canary Islands or trekked cheetahs in remote jungle bush, if their parenting was left purely to me.

So, here’s a tribute to the M. (and Madame) Nons of this world – those who we may moan about and rail against, but who keep us safe, love us enough to stop us doing too many silly things, and give us the secure base from which to leap into the unknown prepared and protected as much as they can manage and arrange.

Without my own M. Non, Madame Oui-Oui-Oui here and the little Oui-Ouis would not be the happy, healthy little unit we are. More time would potentially be spent in A&E than out enjoying ourselves. We must appreciate him and all he does (without the loud bits, obviously), even when “non” means no.

(She says, sneaking off to have a go at base-jumping before her ancient and creaky knees seize up altogether and/or M. Non finds out!! Just kidding, M. Non, honest?)

(Photo credit:

No offence, but…

This week, my girl is experiencing work for the first (and possibly the last!) time. She has fallen on her feet thanks to a good friend of mine who works in a fancy dress shop near to where we live – lucky thing! Personally, I would adore to spend every day wafting about in a Jane Austen-stylie dress and parasol, but people do tend to frown upon that kind of thing in the middle of Mayfair. But Daughter Dearest feels an affinity with all things theatrical, textile and artistic so it really is the perfect placement for her.

Asking her about how her first day had gone, she told me how she had had a difficult virginal customer service moment with a mother and her son who was, let’s just say, in absolutely no danger of malnutrition at the present time. You get my drift. They were wanting a costume for the young boy and my girl tried, politely (so she tells me) to suggest that they would have more choice of pirate outfits if they looked in the “Young Adult” section as opposed to the kids section. She worked hard not to mention his actual bulk – sorry, size. Unfortunately, it appears that mother and son were of the great “Denial” ilk.

I indulge in denial from time to time myself – guilty of enjoying one cupcake too many then bemoaning the fact that, through no fault of my own (!), I  have to spend the next three days on the cross trainer; going to work semi-naked – only one leg actually in my jeans; the other jean leg hanging slackly like an unfulfilled windsock. I could try to force the issue (and both legs in), but progressing to the office in a stiff “Herman Munster”-like waddle isn’t going to get me a seat on the board, now is it? But I digress. My point is that there are those whose lives are dedicated to such denial and there’s no dealing with them or it in a rational manner. They actually, I swear, enjoy being offended.

From a simply logistical point of view, there was no way this half-man-half-kid was going to fit into a children’s costume designed for non-Yetis, so my girl tried to persuade them again to look at a more suitable range. The Mother of All Denials immediately took the obligatory offence taken as her due in these situations. Despite having done her best to be tactful and help them out, my daughter overheard the grumpy moo telling the shop superior that she had been rude and unhelpful. My girl thought this very unfair and, if everything she says is true (she is to dramatic embellishment what the News of the World is/was to phone-hacking i.e. constantly at it!), quite rightly so. She felt she had genuinely tried to help and couldn’t understand how that had been rude. She does not have that “thickened skin” that anyone who has had to grit their teeth and deal with the general public develops. Her innocent honesty is part of her appeal.

However, this whole hyper-sensitivity episode got me thinking about society in general and what DOES constitute politeness, courtesy and good manners in today’s world. Have things skewed to such a crazy policital correctness now that such simple honest dialogue between people is no longer acceptable? Is honesty the new rude?

Some examples of “new rude” certainly exist. Quite common in their use actually. These include saying “No offence, but….” before saying something incredibly offensive in actual fact, which the listener then has to sit and take because that rider was put in front of it. Or stating something unkind about someone or something and then adding, “Just saying…” like the words tumbled out of the mouth without consent or conscious thought. We’ve probably all done it. On that basis, you would think that honesty would be de-sensitising people, as opposed to the opposite. Honesty should be becoming more socially acceptable, not less, shouldn’t it?

But rather than labelling it “new rude”, perhaps what we should be advocating is new honesty. A policy for the world at large. Saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. Not taking offence to facts presented to you. Where being direct is not seen as being unkind. Where truth is not taken as being impolite. I’d definitely go for that, wouldn’t you? I’m over nuances and trying to gauge reactions and situations – it’s exhausting and I really don’t have the time!

But in adopting new honesty, how do we then deal with these bods living in denial of their own realities and making everyone else feel awkward? Well, they could start by accepting facts, owning up and stop expecting everyone else to make allowances for their impossibly fuzzy view of the world. I, for one, have my issues but I try really hard not to impose them on other people and situations. They are MY issues, not theirs.

In this particular case, would the mother have preferred her rotund offspring to be encased in a too-tight costume that would have rendered him more keg of rum than ribald pirate? More laughing stock than theatrical badass? I think not. If, in the end, they cannot be helped because they don’t want to cloud that vision of themselves or a situation that no-one else sees – is that the rest of us being rude, or simply them being in hypersensitive denial?

The latest official current world population estimate, for mid-year 2010, is estimated at 6,852,472,823. Are the Deny-ers going to take them all on? Or accept that honesty is not rudeness; directness is just being straight with them – not offensive. That they are one amongst many; and try to cut the many a little slack? If I were being pedantic, I could say that such intolerance is, of itself, rude to those who are trying to be straight with them.

I’m just saying….

“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it…”

Life is rushing by me far too fast. I want the journey to slow down a bit so I can enjoy every minute and not miss a thing.

This headlong dash through the years has been thrown into panicky relief today as my boy went off to his secondary school for the first of three “taster” days to get him used to that brave new world.

Having managed to avoid running screaming through the village yelling “No! No! Leave him be! For Pete’s sake, he’s only a baby!” and other such embarrassments, I tried to understand why I was feeling so – well – bereft is the only word I can think of.

Don’t get me wrong – I think the taster days are a great idea but I’m also hoping they don’t take the excitement away from his September start. Butterfly tummies are de rigeur along with the ill-fitting new blazer aren’t they? He’ll hit the ground running in September and that’s a good thing. So the school he is going to is not the problem.

No, I have a confession to make. Simply put – I don’t want him to grow up. Is that a terrible thing to say? Maybe, but it’s true.

It’s very strange because I didn’t, and don’t, feel that way about my girl. She is almost at womanhood now and I’ve loved watching her blossom from a skinny, gap-toothed stick insect to the lovely young almost-woman she is now. I didn’t panic at puberty with her – I embraced it alongside her and have marvelled at this she-being we have created.

Why, then, do I feel this hideous anxiety over the same lurch towards adulthood in my boy? Is it because he IS a boy? Do I fear what he will become; what he will get up to? I don’t think it’s that. I have always believed he will be far less of a worry to me than the girlchild will ever be. So, no – it’s not that.

There’s certainly some sadness, that “end of an era” feeling that he is leaving primary school and – despite moaning copiously, loudly and long about the actual school itself – it will be odd not to have any reason left to darken the doors of that establishment. I’ve been summarily crap at anything to do with school or PTA events in the past couple of years – am I now regretting not getting more involved?

There is also, for absolute sure, the feeling that I have no more “babies” left at home. He’ll kill me for writing this, being an 11 year-old and nowhere near a baby, but he is my last, my precious youngest and there can be no more. Is it too soon to already feel “empty nest”-ish?

I’m certainly experiencing the strangest bittersweet feeling of getting exactly what I wished for. All those times when, as toddlers, I used to think: “Ooh, one day you’ll stop forcing peas into your ears and grow up!” or “When you’re older, the thought of bending over so far you can look up your own butt will not occur to you!” (although boy-man + beer at some point in the not too distant future may cause a relapse of that one, I suspect).

Whatever happens next, I am totally excited for them both and enthralled to watch as they work their way forward in life. I just hope in all that growing up, the kids that I adore in them both won’t go missing. Its why we – the father figure and I – had them after all. I don’t know anyone who plans to give birth to grown-ups!

Anyone else out there struck by this same malaise?

Toddler Taming…for Adults

I have just spent the last weekend trawling the local stores for the new school uniform my boy will need when he starts secondary school in September. We did quite well – I’m £150 lighter in the bank, but have only a couple of items outstanding. Oh, and I have the ritual nightmare that is shopping for school shoes for both girl and boy still to look forward to – not. That torture I am saving for when I’ve had three Weetabix one morning and have been religiously mainlining neat vallium with vodka for the preceding two weeks. Only then will I have the mental and physical strength to get through it.

So we’re just paying for the boy’s new blazer at the counter when hubby decides to try on a polo shirt lurking in a corner next to the gumshields. His incessant whining that he has no decent summer clothes had reached a screeching crescendo of late so, as the shirt actually looked really good on him, we bought that too.

Now maybe I’m just being a ratbag because it’s Monday and I have to be at work instead of sucking down rosé in the garden, but this fairly tasteful purchase got me thinking about what happens to the average British male’s fashion sense when the sun finally emerges from its long winter hibernation. There are, it has to be said, some absolute shockers going on out there. The merest glimmer of UVA turns our normally sensible chaps into overgrown toddlers in the wardrobe department. And we girls are somehow letting them get away with it! Here are some of the worst offenders I have noticed:

Naked Toddlers: Now I have nothing against showing a little more skin in hot weather. I’ve been known to shuck off the odd layer of fleece myself. But what is with these men with more than a little -ahem – girth, shall we say, around their middles suddenly deciding that shirts are no longer necessary AT ALL. If they are about to have a water fight with the kids (or each other) then, yes, by all means remove your top. But on the London Underground? In the rush hour? With my unfortunate face at armpit level? Er – no. Thanks. But no.

“Vesties”: These, I have noticed, are habitual offenders in the summer toddler fashionfest. It is just my personal opinion, but frankly I don’t believe anyone not currently playing major league basketball for a living has any justification displaying their mozzarella-pale, flaccid bingo wings through baggy holes in their tops where their sleeves should be. Especially when seated at a table next to the salad counter in the Harvester. As underwear on a cold winter’s day, by all means. But NEVER as a fashion choice in 30 degree heat whilst shopping in Sainsburys. I do not want to see inside your shirt and get an eyeful of your man-boobs every time you bend to reach the yoghurt on the lower shelves. It puts me right off my Pimms.

Professional Toddlers: These are men who wear sensible work wear all week, then insist on slipping into three-quarter length cargo pants which hang halfway down their arses and leave their luminously white, skinny, hairy ankles on show. These men are predominantly in their late forties/early fifties, if you look, and really should know better. They compound the crime by teaming these cargos with comedy T-shirts: usually Homer Simpson or South Park characters with some “amusing” quote on the front. Occasionally they go the whole hog and don comedy socks too. With sandals. Holy Moly.

Toddler Twins: Finally, there is the group who like to dress in larger versions of what their little boys are wearing. I can only assume these chaps have been dressed by, or are scared of, their wives. Why else would you hit BlueWater or the Trafford Centre looking like Tweedle Dee/Dum? Perhaps to avoid a telling-off? Well, it doesn’t work, it’s not at all “cute” – it’s just sad and makes me want to hit the back of their legs with a hairbrush. Therapy may be the only option for these desperate fellows.

Now I’m not saying that everything we girls wear is perfect – Hello Kitty adult clothing is a classic example of toddler styling for those who choose to embrace their inner child. But as wives and mums we should surely be setting an example to our little ones by refusing to let our menfolk – their parents! – leave the house looking like one of the above. A Mr Bump T-Shirt is all very cute worn to bed as a beloved Father’s Day gift. But not out in public at the school fete or PTA barbecue.

I’m old-fashioned, perhaps, a great believer in men being men. I think past the age of 15, there is really no excuse for any of the above. Together with combovers and badly applied fake tan, toddler styling is an abomination which we must work hard as girls to eliminate. Help me out here. Go upstairs, now. Go through your man’s closet removing all offending articles, including those boxer shorts YOU bought him that say “Mummy’s Little Helper” on the front (what were you thinking??). Use them as dusters or turn them into cushion covers for the kids rooms. But do not, under any circumstances, allow him outside to play in any of it.

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“You’re not fat, Mummy, you’re Squidgy….”

Yes, that was the phrase uttered at full volume in the middle of the cinema on Sunday afternoon by my darling son.  To his credit, it is meant to be a compliment.  My son does not “do”  Boney Mummies, as he calls them.  In fact I would say he has an almost pathological fear of them. Which has always been good news for me!

Weight, or rather how I carry my weight, has been an issue ever since my teens. I fluctuate randomly due to an underactive thyroid that no amount of artificial hormone replacement can seem to address. I can eat next to nothing for weeks on end and become bloated….then the next month shovel down a full English, curry for lunch and pizza for dinner every day and not seem to put on a single inch. I am a medical mystery – someone really should study me and there should definitely be some government funding in there somewhere.

I have deduced that it must be something purely to do with metabolism. I believe mine to be dead from the neck down. Or at least very sick. The slimmest I have ever been in the past 20 years was actually when I was pregnant each time with my two children. I weighed more at the outset of each pregnancy than I ever did at the end. It wasn’t because I ate particularly healthily, for while I did up the intake of greenish things, I also felt that no-one would notice if I choked down a couple of bags of Minstrels or Maltesers a day, together with a few muffins and it would have been rude not to have the creamy lattes to go with them. In addition, my craving with each pregnancy was the boiled egg.  I would consume them in vast quantities slapped between slices of white bread, doused in ketchup; then offend the general neighbourhood with the by-product. You can imagine, I don’t need to spell it out I’m sure! I apologise to the local chickens of the time whose backsides worked overtime to provide me with my daily fix!

But despite this gorging self-abuse, I lost weight and in fact at the end of each pregnancy, got into jeans and clothing I hadn’t been able to wear the year before or even many years before –  even with a “joey pouch”, as my friend lovingly calls her left-over pregnancy overhang. I was most definitely a “yummy mummy” for a few months after each baby. Then it would all slowly creep on again, even though I always immediately dropped the chocolate/latte/boiled egg fetishes. So my children have grown up with the reality of a “sturdy” mummy who is not in any danger of being blown over by a puff of wind. And a house without scales in the bathroom. This is their norm.

“Squidgy” is a term of endearment in our house, not something to worry about. Until its broadcast at top volume in the middle of a public place, that is. Then, and only then, did I feel that perhaps the time has come to really think about doing something about it. I play sports at least twice a week, walk my furry son (the dog) for an hour or more every day and am generally quite fit. But the labels in the back of my clothes, coupled with the fact that my back-fat continues to hold a conversation with the people in a room I have just left, leads me to believe this is not reflected in my current look.

So watch this space. Because by hell or by Zumba, something is going to have to give and I have decided it’s the name “Squidgy” – sweet, endearing certainly, but absolutely no longer to be permitted. I won’t upset my boy by displaying any actual bone structure, of that I am certain. Realistic is my middle name, after all. But I am convinced I will feel a lot more comfortable in my skin if that skin is no longer the size of a small South American country.

I Write Therefore I Am…

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I entered my first writing competition yesterday – one with actual prize money if you win. It was a drumroll moment – I have never had the confidence to date to submit anything I’ve written. I just came to the conclusion that I have all this stuff lying around from years of indiscriminate scribbling – why not submit it and see what someone else thinks?

 I also recently submitted a dark little ditty I wrote at 2am one heartburn morning in bed when it became a clear case of sit up or throw up. I chose sit up and while waiting for the Gaviscon to take effect, I wrote down what I saw. It’s a little surreal, and not to everyone’s taste, but it’s mine and like a newborn baby duckling, I love it dearly. Luckily I realised a long time ago that not everyone will think what I write is interesting, informative or funny (my poor blog stats are clear evidence of that!).  That’s OK.  In any case, my piece went up on a flash fiction website on Tuesday and I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t a bit chuffed to see my name in print – even if only for 24 hours on the internet.

At the same time, I seem to be having something of a creative Renaissance. I have been working hard on my “novel” – I don’t want to put too much pressure on it by actually calling it that yet, hence the quotation marks. The words are leaping easily and smoothly onto the pages, and after almost three months I have made a breakthrough in the plotline that might just see me with a first draft in the next couple of weeks if I can maintain the pace. So. Exciting times!

I promised myself in January that I would make time to write this year, and I am surprising myself and my slightly bemused family with just how much I really do enjoy doing this. I found myself really “in the zone” the other evening – the house burble and family mutterings dissolved completely away and there was just me and my flying fingers at the computer, doing my thang! It was brilliant  and weird in equal measures. Like discovering I can play the organ over a quick cup of coffee one morning. Or suddenly wearing a beret. It’s not what I do, surely, but apparently IT IS! My son told me I looked very sweet, tip-tapping away and lost in the moment; doing something I love. Bless him!

The children have, of course, laid claim to any potential literary prize money much as they do any spare salary, coins left unattended on the dresser and most of my meagre savings. The prize money is the focus of their excitement, not mine – I just want someone who knows about these things to like what I’m doing. I must admit though that I now feel duty bound to win the competition or I will be “letting the kids down”. No pressure there then!

 I don’t yet know if I have what it takes to make anything commercial of this writing malarkey but I’m sure as hell enjoying trying to get there. So, watch this space and who knows?  There could be two very happy and slightly richer little noseminers in the house come the end of August. Or not.

Either way, there will be one very contented Mum. For the moment obviously – this is still ME we’re talking about!

PS One last thing, must mention picture credit to

Fashion – turn to the left. Fashion, turn to the right. Oooooooh Fashion! (David Bowie stylie)

So last week goes down as the time when my long friendship with Sue was sorely tested.

Sue and I have known each other for 8 years, and set up a local village netball club together. We compete in a nearby friendly league in separate teams. Sue is ambitious to win all her matches, I try to pick the positive out of every result. Our captaincy styles blend and it works. Our youngest sons are the same age and in the same class at school. I helped strap her into her wedding dress on her big day and we have shared many a silly, giggly evening over the years. You get the picture – Sue and I are good friends.

Er – scratch that. Were good friends.

For Sue is responsible for my attendance at the Pampered Food Fetishist party (thereby showing me up as a domestic devil, not goddess), the subject of a recent blog. Last Friday, blind trusting fool that I am, I went to another Sue-prompted event – the PTA Fashion Show.

Now what I know about fashion can be written on a grain of rice. One that’s been nibbled by mice to half its original size. Then ground into dust. My own wardrobe consists of sporty jeanswear that I am possibly too old for; workwear in any shade you like so long as it’s black; some dodgy butt-covering cardies; and a series of hideous evening outfits bought for one event, hated beyond belief and never worn again. And pyjamas – there is a glut of pyjamas going on. Not sure why.

I adore shoes and handbags. But that has nothing to do with fashion. I like what I like – simples.

So the usual sense of my impending failure as a normal woman began as we entered the village hall. Ten minutes previously I’d been ensconced in front of a warm fire, hubby had been lightly stroking the stubble on my calves and the kids were, for once, watching TV and not bickering. Now here I was, ten minutes later. Ripped from the bosom of family life. Slightly soggy from a cloud burst that, of course, erupted the minute I stepped outside the front door.

Oh my days. It was worse than expected. The lighting made you wince in its unflattering brightness. One girl had a definite greenish tinge to her and will now forever be known as “Shrek”. Someone else tall and thin thrust a raffle book in my moo-ey before I’d even taken my brolly down and picked the twigs out of my cleavage. The walls were lined with an assortment of hanging rails not a million miles from a church jumble sale (albeit on hangers instead of on the floor). The audience assembled was an average age of 72. And there SHE stood next to the microphone, waiting with evil anticipation and crinkly hair for the show to start.

What is it with the women who run these type of events? Chirpy, overenthusiastic, vocal in the extreme and – if they only knew it – alarmingly threatening. A sort of Fashion Commandant.

So Frau Fashion kicked us off, and some of the braver school mums strutted their stuff in items rejected politely by several High Street chains. The models were a little hesitant and the outfits were – ahem – challenging on occasion but under the blistering command of the head of the Fashion SS, overall they conducted themselves well. One poor love seemed to have been labelled as the “Fashion for the over 60s” model – she has a great figure and would have looked good in anything, but was type-cast into elasticated slacks and drapey net thingies in a myriad of garish colours, designed to cover a multitude of sagging bosoms and varicose veins she did not yet have. Bless.

Once Der Fuhrer had finished her patter and the “show” was finished (plus my illicitly snuck-in bottle of white wine), we were encouraged to begin a cat fight over the items around the walls. A couple of women did actually sprint to the nearest rails. I worried for their hip replacements.

I did not run. Instead, a friend and I sought out the rails to find the worst item of the night. And it was hard, believe me, with so much to choose from! But my quiet competitiveness rose to the fore, and not to be discouraged I found the piece de resistance. A handbag!

In a beautiful shade of diarrhoea tan, with a matching fringe that should catch nicely on fire at any BBQ or firework party, there it sat. I was immediately drawn to it. Not because it was nice. I didn’t want to own it, you understand. Or use it in anger for the purpose for which it was intended. No. I wanted to give it a name and a decent home – it was an ill-treated animal needing to be rescued. The name came to me instantly. I would call it “Smelly Monkey”. It would be looked after all its days and go to the great unpicking factory in the sky when its time came to be reincarnated as a butt-covering cardi in the next life.

I was only stopped from purchasing it by my friend Kate who said “Sarah – put it down. It’s probably got fleas.”

At the thought of having to de-louse it, I lost interest. Despite knowing that I was consigning him to a life spent with Eva Braun and her posse, I walked away. Who knows where Smelly Monkey is now – I hope wherever he is, he is happy.

As for Sue, she and I will be discussing what constitutes a good evening out as somewhere along the way, she has clearly lost her way. The Pampered Pickling party I can allow – it was fun with friends and pink fizz – but this – well. I have no words.