Tuesday, 27 March 2012


I’ve been tagged by the lovely Polly at Caught Writing to answer eight questions in a meme on motherhood.  So, here we go, eight questions and eight answers:

Describe motherhood in three words

My greatest achievement

Does your experience differ from your mother’s? How?
Yes and no.  My mum was a SAHM until I was eleven. She had three children to look after though, whereas I only have one.  My parents lived in a small village and my mum did not have a car; her experience of motherhood was rather isolated. I think she was lonely. She put everything into mothering us and loving us, and filled her days doing lots of crafty stuff and making fabulous homemade meals.  She still lives in that village and I know that there is no way I could live there with my child without going stir crazy.  For me, living in a busy place, with lots of parks and things for Pip to do makes life as a SAHM easier.  My own experience of motherhood has made me reflect a lot on what a superb job my own mother did. As a child, you just take it all for granted, now I’m a mother myself, it’s quite humbling just thinking about what she did for us.

What’s the hardest thing about being a Mum?
Making him do things, even though he doesn’t want to, because I know it’s for his own good.  Swimming, for example.  For the first few months of swimming, Pip cried and cried, and even when he stopped the crying, he still wasn’t a fan.   It was so hard taking him each week knowing he didn’t like it. But I did it, because one day, being able to swim might save his life.  With the help of a wonderful swimming teacher we broke through the pain barrier, but at times along the way I did question whether it was worth it. 

The constant stream of staying guests and sharing the best bits.  I have a good relationship with my family, my husband has a good relationship with his.  We’ve all always ‘got on’.   We both left home at 18 to go to university and we both never went back. Both of our parents live a good distance from London. Pre Pip, although we spoke weekly on the telephone we only saw them every 6-8 weeks.  Post Pip, we now have one set or the other staying for 3 nights every 2-3 weeks.  I do understand; he’s the only grandchild on both sides.  They want to see him, it’s hard when they live so far away, but it’s been a big adjustment for me.  I have seen my parents (and my husband’s) more in the last 3 years more than I did in the previous 18. When Birthdays, Easter, Halloween, Christmas arise, everyone wants to be present, to contribute, everyone has a vision of how it should be.  This means that sometimes, my plans or the way I wanted things to be, get put by the wayside.  It’s just the odd little thing and there is no point being petty about it, especially as it’s all because everyone loves Pip so much, but sometimes I do find it hard.  Having him has bought us all closer together, but just occasionally, it does feel a little overwhelming.

What’s the best thing?
Pip has bought unimaginable joy to my life.  We have a strong bond, he is definitely a ‘Mummy’s boy’.  I feel that I really do understand the meaning of unconditional love now I have him.  Watching him grow and develop into a person is just wonderful. Really, there isn’t one best thing. There are a million or more best things. That’s one of the joys of motherhood. 

How has it changed you?
I don’t really know if motherhood has changed me that much.  I still feel the same person inside.   I have become very planful and organised when it comes to admin with regard to schools/courses/activities for Pip, but that’s partly symptomatic of where we live.  There are lots of organised Tiger mum’s in these parts and I learnt the hard way in the early days, when I was told I had to join a waiting list to go on the waiting list for swimming lessons!

What do you hope for your children?
A month before Pip was born I wrote him a letter, telling him about our pre-baby life, how we were getting ready for him, how much his ‘porsche’ of pram had cost (will be interesting for him to look back on if he ever has children of his own.)  I also wrote about my hopes for him, so yesterday I looked the letter out, to reflect back on what I’d written, to see if my hopes had changed since he arrived. 

They haven’t really. 

I hope he is kind and gentle.  I hope he has the confidence to follow his dreams and the willpower and determination to see them through. I hope he is comfortable with who he is.   I hope he is blessed with good health. I hope he doesn’t squander the educational opportunities he is offered, but makes the most of them. I hope he always has friends and family at his table to eat his meals with. I hope he finds true, everlasting love, and someone that loves him back, in the same way.  I hope he has enough money in life to mean that he is never a poor man, but not so much, that he ever forgets it’s value.  I hope he has a long, happy, contented and fulfilled life.

What do you fear for them?
I think it’s inevitable as a mother to have fears for your child, but I try very hard to think positively about everything for fear of projecting negative thoughts onto Pip. My own mother was fearful of letting me do things, or go places for fear of things happening to me. I think it limited my confidence as a child.  I want Pip to be bold, confident and fearless.  (I hope these traits are coupled with an ounce or two of sensibility.)  I am sure he’ll have some challenges and knock backs along the way, and when he does I’ll be there to pick him up, dust him down and help him onwards. 

What makes it all worthwhile?
So many things; hearing him say, ‘You’re the best Mummy in the world’. (Yes, I do accept there are lots of other best mummies in the world.) Watching him sleep peacefully, stroking his gorgeous soft skin and marvelling at how perfect he is.   And knowing that when I leave this mortal world, I’ll have left my genetic imprint, and so, in some strange way, there really is a chance I might live forever.

I’m now tagging:

Rollercoaster Mum
The Rambling Pages

Postcards from Pramstead

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Holiday

Prior to having Little Pip, my husband and I spent a reasonable amount of our disposable income on holidays.  Work allowed us both five weeks holiday a year, and we took it; every single day was accounted for in trips abroad or indulgent mini breaks in the UK.  One of the advantages of having a child relatively later in life, was that having already clawed our way up the career ladder and got a foothold in the housing market, we did enjoy the ‘good life’ for a few years in our early thirties.   And enjoy it we did, my copy of ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ was well thumbed, and at one point I could probably list off the top off my head, most of the UK’s Relais and Chateaux hotels.  Every now and then we’d do something more ‘adventurous’, like take ourselves off trekking somewhere like Nepal or Peru, with rucksacks and sleeping bags, but these trips were top and tailed throughout the year with stays of sumptuous luxury and pampering elsewhere.

It was all rather lovely, but reflecting back on it now; these things can make you rather spoilt.   The more you stay in these wonderful places, the more you expect of them.  Each one needs to trump the other to be even more spectacular.  One becomes rather picky.  When you arrive back to your room at night, and feel dismayed that no-one has turned down your bed and left a nice chocolate on your pillow for you, then perhaps it's gone too far.   Because really, I do think that most normal human beings should be able to pull back their own bed sheets.

It was fun whilst it lasted, but the DINKY lifestyle is now long behind us, lodged in the same memory box as the designer shoes I’d wear whilst supping a champagne cocktail in a glitzy hotel bar.  When the bell of motherhood rang on the biological clock, I happily left that life behind for more simple pleasures, and I don't miss it one bit.

Fast forward to life with Pip.  We still love to travel,  but once you have a child there are a whole host of other considerations to bear in mind. Apart from the fact we only have one income now, the factor that is always at the forefront of my mind whenever I consider anywhere for us to holiday, is the 'Pip suitability factor'.  Millions of questions fire like neurons through my brain as I browse dismissively through holiday websites.  Is the accommodation toddler friendly  Safe? Will the weather be too hot? Too cold?  How long will it take to travel there? What’s the time difference? What is there for Pip / us to do if heaven forbid, it rained for a whole week? 

And so it was, all these considerations in check, that last week we found ourselves in a Mongolian Yurt in the Canary Islands.  Not somewhere I would have wanted to visit pre-children. In fact, my inner holiday snob would probably have turned her nose up (just a tiny bit) at the thought of lots of lager swilling, package tour holidaymakers. Well, shame on me.  They are beautiful islands, with a lot to offer, especially if you do make the effort to get off the beaten track and explore the mystery of the dark, volcanic landscapes.

Our yurt was on a Finca; a small rural piece of land.   We slept in it at night, but our kitchen and bathroom were in a little courtyard outside. Pip loved the sense of adventure of sleeping in the big tent. I shouldn’t have worried that sleeping under a mosquito net would freak him out, it only heightened the experience for him.  Literally 10 times a day we visited the resident chickens to feed them our food scraps, and collect eggs from the hen house which we then ate for breakfast, lunch or tea. Or, instead we would feed the resident donkey, visit the sunken trampoline, the adventure play house or paddle by the small pool.

We spent a week living mostly in the fresh air, and focusing on the simple things; making sandcastles at the beach, feeding the animals, and being together.  All washed down with surprisingly good local wine, and delicious tapas from the place on the beach.  With no TV, no Internet and only each other for company, we spent some proper quality time together as a family. Husband and I also got the time to talk properly in the evenings after making supper in our outside kitchen.  We played cards, played ‘name that tune’ on the ipod and made some decisions on the house project, that in the humdrum of everyday life in London, we never seem able to bring to conclusion.  It made me think, that sometimes, it really is worthwhile switching off the TV set/computer/ and doing something more interesting instead. 

On Mother’s day, I was given a lie in, and as the smell of burning sugar filtered in from the oven outside at 7.30am, I realised they were baking a cake.  Three years on, they still uphold the tradition they started in my first year of motherhood of making me a Victoria  sponge to celebrate Mother’s day.  Despite the challenges of our location, and the difficulty of trying to find the word for ‘self raising flour’ in Spanish, this year was no exception.  The slightly burnt bottom cut off, the cake was delicious.  I felt so thankful to have two people that love me enough to make such an effort.

It’s always a sign of a good holiday when you don’t want to come home. Ridiculously I felt a small lump in my throat on our last day, as we  said goodbye to our nomadic tent with it’s cheerful red inside.  It had been the perfect place to stay for a week, everything had just seemed so effortless and simple. Living as we had for a week was a stark reminder, that actually you don’t need much in life, you can get by with very few material things if you need to; and that what feeds and invigorates my soul and makes me happy, is being with the people I love and care about and spending quality time together.

Back home, I was filled with renewed energy and enthusiasm on our first day back.  By midday I’d done all the washing, changed all the beds, got husband to take lots of junk to the local tip, and unbelievably.. also spring cleaned the fridge.  Standing back, amazed by my feats of domesticity, I made a mental note to book my next holiday very soon.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Listography - Top 5 Cookbooks

Over the years I've spent many happy hours working my way through my collection of cookery books; there's no doubt I'm rather partial to a little gastronomic escapism.  So, as the subject of the Listography at Kate Takes 5 this week is Top 5 cook books, it seemed a great opportunity to take a browse down recipe lane.  These are my favourite tried and tested cookbooks of all time:

1. Ottolenghi - The Cookbook

I love the shop. I love the cookbook. Fresh, seasonal ingredients simply cooked.  This is my 'go to' cookbook if I'm cooking for guests.   Lots of favourites in here, but the recipe for chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic is something else.  There's also a great gluten free chocolate fudge cake too. Delicious.

2. Jamie Oliver - Happy Days with the Naked Chef

I'm a big Jamie fan, but this one of his books gets used the most.  His suggestion for cooking chilli con carne in the oven is fab too.

3. The Good Housekeeping Bible

This was one of the first cookbooks I ever bought. These days it's looking rather tatty. It's my bible, the book I turn to when I need to make a sauce or a preserve or condiment - or just find a 'classic' recipe - I know they'll all be in it.

4. Marcus Wareing - How to cook the perfect...

I like this book for it's 'Tips for Perfection' section on every recipe.  This book covers everything from the perfect roast beef and trimmings to baking the best chocolate brownies.  I've cooked a number of the baking recipes in here and they're all fab. It was this book that taught me how to make a great vanilla panacotta. (Even if I say so myself.)

5. Delia Smith - Soup

For some slightly more inspired soup options, I like this book.  The black bean soup is my favourite - wholesome and hearty; a meal in a bowl.

So that's my top 5 cook books. What are your favourites?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

#Art I Heart - Girl

Girl by Charlie Mackesy

It seems almost a lifetime ago that we bought this picture.  Young, newly married and carefree we found ourselves quite unexpectedly one evening, at a gallery in London’s west end.  I can remember that night so clearly.  We went along for the fun of it, for the free champagne.  It was all terribly proper. We didn’t expect for one minute to buy anything.  And then, there she was, right before us; ‘Girl’.

It was not the case that one of us liked her more than the other. We both instantly connected with her.  So, we bought her, on the spot.  We took her home and hung her on the living room wall.  A few days later my mother visited. ‘ Well, it’s you isn’t it?’ she said. The thought had never occurred to me, and when I asked my husband, he said it hadn’t occurred to him either.

Girl has hung on our wall now for seven years.  In that time, countless visitors and friends, old and new, have asked; ‘Is that you?’. Physically, I guess we are similar, and sometimes I wear my hair in a similar style. I can understand why people ask.  I always answer truthfully; ‘No, it’s not me.’

But sometimes, I feel that it is.  There have been times in my life when I have felt that Girl with her head in her hands, illustrated perfectly the sadness in my heart, and the aching of my soul.   Times when I looked at the picture on the wall and almost felt it was a mirror, and I was looking at my reflection. 

I love looking at Girl. I love the simplicity of her, and wondering about her; wondering what she is thinking and if indeed she has travelled the same path as me.   I feel we are one and the same.  She is me and I am her.  I feel certain that wherever I am in life, Girl will always be on my wall.
I'm joining this post up to Midlife Single Mum's Meme: Art I Heart.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Crime Time

It’s not been a good start to the week. Since the weekend, I’ve found myself the victim of not one, but two crimes.  Perhaps it’s divine retribution; payback for the car tax misdemeanour.

Crime no. 1

A theft. From my own home.

Feeling a tad peckish last night, I ventured into the 'Gruffalo’s Cave' to retrieve the last of the Christmas Toblerone.  Salivating at the thought of a sweet chocolate pyramid filled with delicious, chewy nougat, I made my way down to the cellar, only to find, the previously unopened box had been broken into and that more than half of my Toblerone HAD BEEN EATEN.

Yes, the pesky little rodents are back. Thieving little blighters. I shall be having a word with the man from the council.  After relieving me of a not insignificant sum of money, and assuring me, ‘It’s perfectly painless, they’ll eat this last supper, and just go off for a nice long sleep”, it seems, that they decided to awake from their slumber...and come back for pudding. 

Nobody steals my Toblerone and gets away with it.   I have summoned the Pied Piper to return to Faulty Towers this week, to deal with the burgeoning mouse population once and for all.  And if that doesn’t do it, I’m going to borrow next door’s cat, shut him in the cellar and leave him there to ‘dance’ with them until the job is done.  Stealing the last of a woman's chocolate is simply unforgivable.

Crime no 2.

My mobile phone was stolen yesterday morning.  Having manfully tackled the Monday morning marathon trek to swimming, and all our other tasks, I decided I would treat us to a quick cup of coffee and a babyccino in our favourite bakery cum coffee shop.  We had barely spooned the milky foam from the top of our cups when two gypsy looking women, (long hair, swishing skirts, gold teeth) entered the shop and started to beg for money, sashaying their way through the tightly packed in tables.  Practically standing on top of us, one woman started to whisper to me in a language I didn’t understand, making weird hand gestures and then reached out as if to take the packet of sugar I was putting in my coffee.  ‘What are you doing?’ I said, pulling the sugar away from her. Pip looked a little frightened. With restraint I politely asked if she could ‘GO away’.  No one else paid them much attention, and they swiftly left. Ten seconds later, I realised my mobile phone was no longer on the table, and had disappeared with them.  I had fallen foul of the classic distraction tactic, masterfully performed Artful Dodger- stylie. Bye bye iphone.

The remainder of the morning was spent sitting next to a homeless old lady in the police station waiting room who smelt very strongly of wood smoke, had plastic bags as shoes and was engrossed in writing letters on a couple of five pound notes.  The total sum of her worldly possessions were gathered in a scruffy little cart that she parked by the side of the wall.

The local police were very efficient and helpful, they sent out an immediate search party looking for the two gypsy women, but unsurprisingly, they didn’t find them. I won’t see my phone again, it’s long gone. But frankly, it’s only a phone, and it was insured anyway. The situation is inconvenient, but that’s it.  Sitting next to a homeless old woman who seemed to think that the best thing to do with money was write letters on it, rather than perhaps visit  the second hand shop across the road to buy shoes to cover her swollen, sore infected feet, was a worthy reminder that I have little to worry about in life*. 

*With the exception of the small issue of dealing with the Toblerone eaters.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Misdemeanours of Mummy Plum

We were enjoying a gentle start to the morning. The promise of a good weather day as the morning sun started to stream through the kitchen windows. Pip was eating his porridge without any complaints, and my essential first cup of tea of the day, was starting to work it’s magic, the caffine cutting through the last hanging cobwebs of the previous night’s slumber.

Our peace and quiet was shattered by a loud persistent banging at the door, interspersed with random trills from the doorbell. I scanned the recesses of my mind for memories of online shopping sprees after a glass of wine. No, I’m not expecting anything, I thought.  So I contemplated leaving whoever it was to go away.  Except, whoever it was, didn’t want to go away, and by this time, Pip was getting rather excited about who could possibly be at the door making such a racket at this time in the morning.

Pyjama clad and sporting particularly bad bedheads, we made our way to the front door.  I tried to peek around the navy blue curtain that hangs in front of the clear glass door panes to try and see who was there, but whoever it was, had then moved backwards to lean against the side wall. All I could see was a boot and a trouser leg. Nothing for it then, I had to open the door.

It was Carl, the builder from over the road. (I was not pleased that someone I knew was seeing me in this state.)  He obviously sensed my embarrassment, because he prefaced his comment with “Sorry to knock so early....”

 “...... but your car’s about to be towed away.”

WHAT?  Still bleary eyed, I looked out to the road. There before me sat a DVLA tow truck with a crane atop, ready to winch my car off the public highway.  All thoughts of personal appearance out the window, I grabbed my keys and ran out into the road.  Mr Tow Truck was poised with his camera in front of my car, about to take a ‘before’ shot prior to getting down to the job in hand.

“What’s going on? I cried. "Why are you taking my car away?”
Carl the Builder helpfully pointed out: “ You’ve got no road tax.”
“Yes, Yes, I have. Look.” I pointed to the window.
“That tax disc expired in December”, said Tow Truck Man.

December? Suddenly I felt very confused. It was all slightly too much for my brain to comprehend at such an early time in the morning. My first thought. Where’s Pip?  He’s on the doorstep. Safe. Good. Now think, think. You must have renewed the tax disc, surely.  They’d have sent you a reminder. Did they? Did you get a reminder?  *Silent wailing*. I can’t remember.  Maybe it’s fallen behind some of the old ones in the disc holder. Get in the car. Check. Tax discs for the last 3 years, but not one for 2012.

Tow Truck man clearly thought I was grasping at straws flicking though years worth of old tax disks whilst in my PJ’s.

“ Listen love, the Police asked me to tow this vehicle away, they know from their computer that you haven’t got a disc.”

That seemed to make it quite official. I definitely hadn’t got one.  Tow Truck man’s sidekick started to manoeuvre the winch of the crane, the truck starting to make whirring noises.  I started to panic, thinking - my car is going to be impounded.

Carl the Builder pitched in again;  “Sit in the car. Then he can’t take it.” That seemed a semi helpful suggestion so I asked Tow Truck Man, (in the nicest fashion possible, to affirm if this would be the case.)

“ If I sit in the car, does that mean you can’t take it?”
Tow Truck Man said: “ You can sit in the car. And I’ll call the Police. They’ll be here in less than 15 minutes.”

No. No Police.  I noticed that the blinds next door had started twitching.  It’s always helpful in these situations to know that your misdemeanours are being observed by the neighbours.  It seems that the people next door take the concept of 'Neighbourhood Watch' quite literally.

“What can I do? I don’t want you to take my car.”
Carl the Builder - trying to be helpful again: “Go inside and renew your tax will only take 5 seconds. I’ll sit in the car.”
Tow Truck Man: ‘Listen, I’ve been told to just take the car. If anyone sits in it, I’ll just call the cops”
Me: Pleading.. “Please don’t take the car...” (At this point I was starting to feel like a cast member filming a scene on Prisoners Wives.)

In the midst of the exchange, a wail erupted, like a claxon it silenced the hubbub.  We stopped and turned in its direction to see Pip watching from the doorstep; a stripy Iggle Piggle in his fluffy blue and black sleepsuit.  Tears ran down his little face as he confusedly watched the situation unfold, the body language of slightly aggressive Tow Truck Man,  of Carl, the anti-vigilante animatedly defending me, and panicky, stressed out mummy with bedraggled bed hair standing outside the house in her Pj’s trying to stop someone take the car away.

"Don't take Mummy's car" he sobbed, pointing at the vehicle with the crane poised over it.

“Ahhh. Look at the little lad” said Carl.

Tow Truck man looked at Pip, and as his heart of stone softened, so did his face.  I watched him metamorphose before my eyes,  as if we were in a slow motion movie.  There’s something about seeing a small child cry; when you know you can make it stop, you want to. It’s an instinctive part of being a good human being.  Suddenly Tow Truck Man felt like a bad guy,  like the worst man in the world. (Even though, let’s be fair, he was only doing his job.)

“Listen. If my boss finds out I didn’t tow your car, I’ll be in serious trouble. Go inside and do it online, or get to the post office in the next hour.”

“OK. Ok. Thank you, thank you so much.”

Once Pip was assured that Mummy’s car was not going to be taken away and happily seated in front of the TV, I tried to gather my thoughts and arrived firmly at the conclusion, that I had forgotten to tax the car, and quite swiftly realised that the reason I had not received a reminder from the DVLA is because I had forgotten to inform them that we had moved house. Useless. Utterly useless on both counts.

That was unfortunately not the end of my stress.  I couldn’t renew my car tax online, because, it turns out, you can only do that with the reminder letter the DVLA send you (which I didn’t have, as they did not have my new address.)  Added to my woes, I could not find my insurance certificate either.  A monumental hunt ensued trying to find the necessary documentation.  There was a slightly charged phone call to my husband at work; “ I can’t find x/ y’ Where are they? ‘ I don’t know’. ‘It’s not my fault’ ‘I’m not saying it’s your fault’. ‘ I feel like you’re saying it’s my fault’ . AGGGHHH! Stress. Stress. More stress, trying to find everything and get to the post office and back before Mr. Tow Truck returned and found that I wasn’t good to my word; that I was just a tax avoiding crim like everyone else on his list.

Where was the damn insurance certificate?  6 months worth of ‘filing’ which only this week I boasted; "It might not be filed but I know where everything is", ended up spread across the dining room floor whilst I tried to find the darned documents. Know where everything is? Clearly not. What a joke. Were they in the Chinese Cabinet? The usual hiding place for such things. No. Man drawer? No. Kitchen dresser? No. General dumping ground near bookcase? No.  Only when I had the foresight to look in a brown envelope shoved in a corner with some electricity bills stuffed in it, hiding the other contents, did I find the insurance certificate and registration documents for the car.

An emergency dash to the post office later and I now have a fully taxed car.  I have paid the back tax owed, and am fully expecting a hefty monetary penalty to be winging it’s way to me.  And frankly, whilst I won’t be pleased, I’ve got no one to blame but myself (and possibly the husband too. It is a ‘family’ car after all.)

So, the learning for today.  Make sure you communicate your change of address to EVERYBODY, do your home filing regularly, and think twice before you open the door in your pyjamas.  Oh, and there is a little human kindness out there. Thank you Tow Truck Man, wherever you are now, I’m wishing you a very lovely weekend.