Monday, 31 May 2010

The Return

We ran away this weekend.

We piled the children into the car, and drove 650 miles for the pleasure of two and a half days in our old haunts.  Admittedly, if you're American, you probably do that for lunch, but believe me, it's not normal here.

We spent a day and a night in London with L's best friend and her family.  The girls were so delighted to see each other, and so exhausted the next day having bounced off the ceiling for three hours after they were supposed to be in bed.  But that joy, even allowing for the fall out, was worth the journey.  They're at that wonderful stage where time is totally elastic, so the fact that they haven't seen each other for a month means nothing.  A month, a week, ten minutes while one of them goes to the loo, it's all time apart, and immeasurable.  And when they are back together it's as if it has never been.

It wasn't unalloyed joy though.  In fact at times it was downright odd.  I turned off the A40, down the road my brother used to live on, and thought "nearly home".  And then had to gulp down the knowledge that it isn't home any more.   I bumped into six people I know at the swings, including the lovely I'm a Mommy Get me out of Here.  The dentist's receptionist ran out to give me a hug.  The guy who helps in the playgroup we used to go to grabbed the girls out of their pushchair and got ice cream all over himself for his pains.  And each time I had to remind myself again that this wasn't home, and that we had done a good thing in moving away from these people who love me and love my children.

But then I snuck back into our house (they're having building work done, and weren't there, so I blagged my way in (seduced the builders, you know how it is), and was actually really pleasantly surprised - they're doing everything I'd have done if we'd been staying there long term and had the money. It's going to look lovely.  I tried to sneak some photos, but that was a step too far for the builder...) and you know what, that didn't feel like home.  Maybe it was because the carpets were ripped up, and all the paint colours we had thought so long and hard over (yellow for L, because we didn't know what she was; green for S and A, because we did, and there's only so much pink you can take) had been replaced with natural calico, but it didn't feel like my house.

I've just finished reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon.  I was underwhelmed, and I don't think, ordinarily, that it is a book that would have stayed with me.  Except that he says this:

I was filled with a frail and sad exhilaration, which I really ought to have recognised for what it was [...] it was nostalgia, and what inspires nostalgia has been dead a long time.

And, although I rarely remember phrases I have read in books,  indeed, I quite often forget I have read a book entirely, that sentence echoed in me, like a slightly irritating itch, from the moment I turned into our old haunts, until I was safely back outside the M25 on the way to my parents.  So much that the first thing I did, on getting back here at midnight last night, was to go and look it up.  To examine it.  To see if what I had been feeling was a frail and sad exhilaration or just self-pity.  Or exhaustion.

Whatever it was, we are back now.  And I am glad to be back.  If that sometimes felt like home, we are now at the stage where this always does.  But the gloss has come off it somehow.  I am suddenly conscious that if I wander into town here, the only person I am likely to meet who knows my name is the postman, and he's not going to care whether he sees me or not.  And although I hope, and believe, that both L and I will find new friends here, and that I will become part of this community, it is going to take time and work.  And the longer it takes, the worse the nostalgia will get.

Image from  As usual.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Gallery - On friendship, love and loyalty

There are three members of my family about whom I've never yet blogged.  Their pictures haven't appeared up here, either full-face or from behind.  I don't mention them when I tell people about my family.  My mum doesn't ask after them when she rings.

But without them we would be bereft.

They are L, S and A's friends, and their love for them knows no bounds:

Like any love, and many friendships, there is no logic to it, no rhyme nor reason.  The objects of this love are, to the objective eye, nothing special, everyday, ordinary, a little grubby, tatty, and maybe even in need of a wash.  But to L, Mummy Sheep (her choice of name):

to S, Piggywig:

and to A, Pink Bunny (to distinguish him from White Bunny, who was given to S, and in whom S has shown no interest at all, although A will begrudgingly accept him as a barely tolerable substitute when Pink Bunny is in the wash):

are the zenith of all that is good and beautiful.  L put yet another lump in my throat when we were reading the Velveteen Rabbit with her certainty that "Mummy Sheep is Real, Mummy, because I love her very much". 

Why do they feel like this? What is it about these perfectly ordinary soft toys that melts my daughters' hearts? That means they are fiercely loyal to them and that none other will do?  Piggywig was literally the first toy S picked up, aged about four months.  A took longer to fall in love, and flirted with an orange pig and a different (also pink) rabbit before settling on Pink Bunny at about 10 months.  L chose Mummy Sheep when she realised, at not quite one, that someone else wanted to play with her, and although she has had moments of threatened infidelity with, among others, Chick, Dingle Sheep, and Other One Sheep (yes, that really is his name), it is always Mummy Sheep to whom she turns in need.

We refer to them as their "friends" because they really are. And while I have no doubt that other friends, both human and not-so-animate, will come along. There's a big part of me hoping that Mummy Sheep, Piggywig and Pink Bunny will be hiding in the suitcases when my grown-up girls leave home...


This post was inspired by, and written for (even if it wasn't quite what she intended) Tara Cain's Gallery over at Sticky Fingers.  For more amazing pictures and stories click here.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Wanted! Mum of four with twenty minutes to spare*.

B and I have had the conversation. 

And then we've had it again.  And again.  And again. With each other and pretty much everyone else we've come into contact with over the last few weeks.

Are we going to have another baby?

It's no secret (if it wasn't before, it certainly isn't now, the amount we go on about it) that I want another baby, and now we're here, and we have the space, and I have no job**, I really want another baby; but B isn't so sure.  And where I'm worried about birth defects, and age gaps, and more sets of twins, he's just afraid of a little hard work (and the twins...).

Because it would be hard work, wouldn't it?  A baby is hard work.  A baby, two toddlers and a three year old would be very hard work.  I can't pretend that it wouldn't.  All I know is that I want it anyway. 

But what neither of us knows is whether it's too much hard work.  Of course that's subjective.  If I'm a lazy bugger who likes long lie-ins (which I am) and you're a workaholic who enjoys laundry and can survive on four hours sleep a night, you're going to find it easier than me, goes without saying.  But what I want to know is, insofar as it is possible to be objective about this sort of thing:  is 4 children do-able?  Does it get easier each time? Do the older ones ever start to be more of a help than a hindrance?

So this is a plea.  Does any of my lovely readers have four children?  Does anyone know anyone who has four children? And if so, would you or they be prepared to tell all....?

* and if I can't find anyone, that might tell its own story

** and therefore need something to validate my existence (?).  I think therein may lie another post...

Saturday, 22 May 2010


Don't you think the word "fascinator" is silly?  I do.  I prefer "confection".  I once heard someone refer to the little bit of nonsense perched on top of someone's head as a "confection" and I have adopted it as my own.

So here, for your millinery viewing pleasure, is the confection I made on Tuesday for my sister to wear at a wedding today.  I hope she's enjoying herself:

The butterfly (which I got from John Lewis and is made by VV Rouleaux) is actually detachable so we can put other (maybe different coloured) stuff on in due course, so here's what the actual structure (ie the bit I made!) looks like:

Oh, and the idea is that she's going to wear it on the back of her head, so it will sit around the base of her hair, where she's put it up (she has these amazing blonde ringlets so I'm hoping it will look just stunning).


And by popular request (Pants with Names, that's you) , here is a picture of the back of my sister's head.  If a picture of the back of one's head can be said to be not very flattering, this one is.... so don't judge her on that. But admire the confection.  Please!

Sublime to the ridiculous - Books at Movingtime

Just because I've been moving a family of five 350 miles is no excuse for not reading.

But worry not.  I haven't let you down. I have been reading.  I just haven't been blogging about it.

I started with Wolf Hall.  I had hopes of Wolf Hall, but I was also a bit scared of it.  I don't give up on books.  If I start a book, I am Magnus Magnusson-like in my determination to finish it.  In fact I can name all the books I have, as an adult, failed to finish*.  Even if I hate a book I won't put it down.

But that's not the right attitude any more.  If I am trying to ensure that I read properly, that I read for pleasure and that my reading, and the time I spend doing it, is worthwhile, whether because I learn something, or I am treated to good writing, or I just lose myself in a plot, then surely I shouldn't go on with reading something I'm not enjoying, should I?

And that being so, I was afraid I'd have to give up on Wolf Hall because  I don't tend to agree with the Booker judges.  I gave up (pause for shocked intake of breath) on Vernon God Little, I thought The Sea was really dull, Inheritance of Loss was all very well, but didn't light my fire, Life of Pi was great until the end when I got really cross and was forced to throw it across the room.  In fact, the only Booker prize-winning novel of the last ten or so years I've actively enjoyed was The Blind Assassin.

Until now.

I was totally carried away by Wolf Hall.  Which is even more amazing when you realise that you know the plot. It's about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, so of course you know the plot.  You're hardly sitting in suspense wondering if it'll all work out ok and the lovers will get married and live happily ever after.  Except that you are.  Because even though you know the history, you don't know how it's going to end, because you don't know when it's going to end.  Will Anne still be alive? Will Cromwell?  Will Henry?

But that's not why I enjoyed it (once I'd got used to the mildly irritating and confusing way she often refers to Cromwell just as "he", regardless of any others in the scene to whom that personal pronoun could also be applied) .  I enjoyed it because I was there.  I was with the child Cromwell as he witnessed a burning, and with the adult as he watched the downfall of his patron, Wolsey, or gained the ear and trust of his king, or pleaded with Thomas More to take the oath that would save his life.  I could see it, smell it, taste it.

I sort of knew this period of history: I studied it, many moons ago, for A-level, and I wrote a dissertation on A Man for All Seasons, but it took Hilary Mantel to make it come alive.

And then I picked up Fatal Revenant - The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson.  I bought this one by weight, not quality, and it was a mistake.  Partially it's my own fault because I didn't read enough of it when I bought it to realise that it's book eight of a nine book series.  But it's also, with all due respect to Mr Donaldson, who is, I am sure a lovely chap, and kind to children and animals, utter guff.  Maybe if you've read all the others you'd get into it, but coming into it cold, it was full of the self-important, pretentious, cod-philosophising that characterises the worst in fantasy.  All of the navel-gazing self-indulgence of Tolkein, without the characters and plot that redeem it.

So, reader, I gave up.  I read the synopsis of the first seven books, struggled through the next hundred pages and then B got so bored of me whinging about it that he took it away.

And I am now reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon. Because I picked it up cheap and I really enjoyed The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  Nearly finished actually, and then it'll be time for a bit of self-indulgent escapism as I read my Secret Post Club present.

* The Pope's Rhinoceros, Catch 22, The Alexandria Trilogy (only the first one, I never started the others), Q, Vernon God Little (won the Booker Prize, see above), and now The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant....

All book pictures from   Thank you to them.

Secret Post Club - May

I like to think of myself as idiosyncratic.  In my head, I am who I am, and who I am is, if not eccentric (those you know me may prefer to go with "weird"), certainly individual.  Sadly, the lovely Sarah, who is a supersinglemum, has blown that out of the water by knowing me far too well.  And she's never met me.

She sent me some of this:

and one of these (although not exactly like this, but I've taken it out of its lovely case now, and forgot to take a picture of it while it was all pretty and not scattered across the bathroom, so I'm cheating with the picture):

and this book, about a lawyer who jacks it all in and becomes a home-maker (horrible phrase, but she's a housekeeper, and I'm not, so the overlap word probably has to be that one):

and a very large bar of this.  Which clearly is no longer with us.  Other than round my hips of course:

She could only have got me more spot on - mangled hands from the unpacking, new life, chocolate habit - if she'd added a large bottle of wine. But that would have blown the budget, so as it is, it's perfect.  Thanks so much to Sarah, and to Heather as always.

Warning of witterings to come.

And breathe!

I have nearly caught up!  I have read and replied to all the comments left over the last three weeks, I have caught up with most (although by no means all) of what has been going on with my favourite bloggers, and I can now sit down and write, well, the next few posts...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The sort of thing a proper SAHM does with her children.

I have had an utterly, utterly, rubbish day today.  I have been the sort of mother I hate.  The sort of mother who shouts at her children so loudly they cry, and who gives herself a sore throat in the process.  The sort of mother who gets constantly whinged at from waking to sleeping, and who can't decide whether to scream, cry, throw the sodding plate of pasta and sausages ("I don't like sausages") through the window, or just walk out, whilst simultaneously doing all of the above.

It's been awful.

It's Varicella Zoster's fault.  L has the pox.  So we've been stuck in the house (and the garden: thank heavens, lucky stars and all the deities in the pantheon that this didn't happen when we didn't have a garden to speak of) since yesterday morning, and we're all getting very scratchy and cross with each other.  L isn't ill, or at least not so ill so that you can park her in front of the telly, but she's itchy and whiny and we're rubbing each other up the wrong way...  And A and S haven't got it yet, but it's surely only a matter of time.

Which is why I'm going to blow my own trumpet. And remind myself what a great mother I can be when I want to.  And that I can do the stuff that the books tell you you're supposed to do. And that it was fun.

And that hopefully, those are the days they'll remember when they are grown up. Not the ones like today.

It started on Saturday. Bright, but cold.  We piled into the car, packed our passports and headed for the Border.  To Ford and Etal to be precise.  Apparently they're two little villages with all sorts of interesting things in.  But we never actually got there, because L was sick on the way, and we arrived too late for the miniature railway and it was all a bit rubbish until we got to Heatherslaw Mill which is actually in between the two.  It's fantastic! It's a proper working water mill, and L, at just 3, was fascinated.  By the water rushing in, and the cogs turning, and the big stones grinding against each other, and the flour going into the bag ("like in Bagpuss"*)  and the chocolate cake we had in the sunshine afterwards:

So we bought some flour and we took it home, and no one was sick and we agreed we'd had a lovely day.

And on Monday I put on my Ocado apron (I miss Ocado) and my goodSAHM hat, and once A and S were in bed, L and I got busy:

We got our ingredients and our recipe (Nigella's best, because I intend to be a Domestic Goddess.  One day) ready:

We mixed our Heatherslaw-milled flour (500g) with our salt (1 tsp), our bicarbonate of soda (2 tsps) and our cream of tartar (4.5 tsps).  Then we "stroked" the butter (50g - which is not what Nigella says, but I think it's a misprint, and anyway, I don't believe in following recipes exactly, where's the fun in that?) into the dry ingredients with our fingers:

until we had mixed it all in.

We poured in the milk (300ml) and got our fingers all sticky mixing that in, before turning it out onto the side and "pushing and pulling" it all together.  L subscribes to the school of thought that says all food stuffs are improved by the addition of sultanas (I know men who feel the same way about bacon), so we stuck 75g of those in too (the out of focus-ness indicates the vigorousness of the kneading):

Then we rolled it out:

Before cutting them out with a 6.5 cm crinkle-edged round cutter (B agreed with Nigella that the crinkles were very important) and "painting" them with egg:

Then we put them in the oven which we had uncharacteristically remembered to preheated to 220 (gas 7) and waited excitedly for ten minutes:

before taking them out ("careful Mummy, they're hot") with care and pride:

By this stage, S and A had woken up, so we took (hideouslyuglyjumblesale) Teddy outside and had a picnic (complete with checked "rug"):

The fact that they then ate so many scones they refused to eat any supper that wasn't scones is one we'll gloss over in favour of the best bit: not only did L and I enjoy ourselves, and the girls adore the scones, I got to send them to nursery with them on Tuesday as a "snack", and look like a really proper SAHM there too.

And I live in hope that tomorrow (S and A at nursery (without scones: we've eaten them all),  Spotty and I here, with a carrot loaf recipe, or possibly "more scones please Mummy") is more like that, and less like today.  Wish me luck. And send me any ideas for entertaining the pox-infested.  Please.

* ps and for your viewing pleasure. Here's the best part of that epic episode:  You can't (as any fule kno) make chocolate biscuits out of breadcrumbs and butterbeans

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Rules

One of the nice things about a new house and a new life is you can convince a trusting 3-year-old that certain things are going to be different.  Things that, if the truth be told, don't necessarily actually have to be different.  Things like "no toys in the kichen" and "we only have apple juice at breakfast".  The sort of things, in other words, that I've been trying to change for some time and haven't managed to. Until now.
"Things" that in another house might be called "Rules".

I've had rules in the back of my head for a while now.  A couple of months or so ago I read an article by a man who had brought up his son on his own (though sadly can't remember who he was or where I read it, sorry).  Anyway, he said that one of the secrets of his success (ahem) was that he had a small set of fixed rules which were never breakable*.

Now, if you'd asked me before I had the girls, I'd have said that you have to have rules and you have to be consistent.  In fact, if you asked me now, I'd still say that you have to have rules and you have to be consistent.  But the thing I can't decide on is what those rules should be. 

I know that they've got to be clear, I know they've got to be enforceable, and I know that they've got to be few.  You can't have too many rules, it just gets confusing.  But then I get stuck.  In fact, the only rule on which we are decided, agreed and live by ourselves is that the girls aren't allowed to hurt each other.  Hurting each other brings the wrath of  Mummy down upon them.   But even then the extent of the wrath of Mummy depends on all sorts of factors mostly relating to how thin Mummy's patience is wearing by that point...

But what else?  What rules should we have and how should we enforce them?  Is no toys in the kitchen a good rule?  Is it enforceable? And what about when the rules conflict?  If L bites A and then owns up, should I be cross because of the biting, or pleased because of the honesty?

I asked some friends about this, and they said that they had been told that the most important thing was to decide what was important to you, and then to live by it as well as imposing it on your children.  In other words, if you think the most important thing is that your children are polite, you must be polite. If you think they should be honest, ditto.... 

Which just adds another question - what about the times B and I conflict?  I'm tidy, B's not.  He's got endless patience, I'm not so hot at that. Where should our priorities lie?

Is this just another impossible parenting question, or can we achieve a set of simple, enforceable rules?  And if so, how?

*One of these was that when Daddy said  "It's time to go" it was time to go. No questions. No answering. No procrastination.  

To which I say, in tones of disbelief  "How?"  Whatever he's got. I want some of it.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

First Post


Be gentle with me.  This is my first post from my new life.

My name is Harriet. I'm a full-time mum.  I live in Scotland.

This time two weeks ago, only one of those things was true, and I didn't admit to it in internet-based-public.  But this is a new life.  Here I am.

I fear that like many (most) first posts, this one is going to be rubbish.   I'm here, in an internet cafe (still no broadband), looking at a blank screen, and with simultaneously nothing, and everything, to say.

Some thoughts:

It's blinking cold here.  I'm told it's cold everywhere.  But I'm also told by my mother-in-law that it took her five years to stop feeling cold when she moved to Scotland.  I'm a little scared by that.

The girls are loving it (mostly).  The new nursery (about which most definitely more later) is beyond our wildest expectations.  There is a trampoline (thank you to B's parents) in the garden. They have a playroom.  A is punishing us for leaving her for a week I think, but even she is adoring toddling from room to room and scattering a trail of toys behind her like a 21st Century Gretel.

My "no toys in the kitchen" rule may be doomed to failure.  But how lovely to have enough space that you can even attempt it.

The water really is nicer.  B's been whinging about London water since I've known him.  I was brought up on diluted limescale so I've been generally tuning him out (which is not to say I do that often, of course), but on this one he's right.  The water tastes lovely.  And I keep running my fingers through my hair because it feels so soft.   All that money spent on expensive shampoo searching for the elusive one that would make my hair touchy feely, like I just stepped out of a salon... and all it took was a move of 350 miles.

This feels right.  The town is lovely.   It has everything I need (internet cafe included) within a ten minute walk of my front door.  No one has yet lynched me for being English.  Indeed, and maybe it's part of being so close to the Border anyway, the variety of accents you hear in the 200 yards between our front door and the centre of town puts parts of London to shame.

Now I am here, I'm going to have to do the things I've been talking about. I'm going to have to be a consultant lawyer.  I'm going to have to set up a  millinery business.  I'm petrified.  What if I fail?

My father-in-law thinks I'm pregnant. 

There are still places in the UK where people park their pushchair (complete with child) outside the shop when they go into it.  Am amazed.  And very tempted.  Am I mad?

The girls are in nursery a day and a half a week.  It costs less a month than a week of nursery in London. This is the greatest luxury I could imagine.  I feel guilty beyond words.

We have made the right decision.  So far.  


ps: The bloggy bits:

I have been enormously touched not to have been forgotten in the bloggy world.  Thank you for all the comments on my various moving house posts, especially given that they have been met with silence.  It means a lot and I will reply to all comments in due course.
I'm going to wimp out of the Gallery this week.  Feel a bit rubbish about that as I was very proud of having not missed a week.  And I think it's done wonders for my stats!  But it's Men this week, and they're sadly outnumbered in my family, and a view of my beloved from behind seems a little silly, much as I love him, and definitely not worth a trip back here tomorrow morning with all three in tow.

Finally, in answer to the emails etc about CyberMummy, was totally totally delighted to be the winner of the ticket in the Tots100 this month - and gutted that I still, nonetheless, despite everything in its favour, can't go.  Sadly, a wedding's a wedding, and we've already said yes.  So we will be in Lancaster.  But I will be thinking of you all.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


The girls are here. My mum brought them back last night, turning what was a house of cardboard into the family home it is meant to be.

We have arrived.


Most of the cardboard is now unpacked, but it's going to be two more weeks before the broadband gets here so blogging will be intermittent at best till then. (This is particularly galling as B works for the broadband provider, but apparently it would be unfair to bump us up the queue. I decided against informing them that "life's not fair"...)

That said, it is Wednesday, so this week's secret places Gallery entry (don't want to miss it) is one I made earlier: see my nooks and crannies post of about ten days ago...

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