Thursday, 30 October 2008

Wonderwoman without the costume. Or indeed any costume

I was sitting in my bedroom this morning, not long out of the shower, dressed only in underwear and combing my hair. The news was on in the background and I was getting my brain in gear for the day ahead. Suddenly the bedroom door flew open and two slightly unkempt peanut butter smeared boys appeared. First Born got in first. "It's Halloween tomorrow so you need to get us a pumpkin. And sweets for the guisers."

I looked down at my unclad self. "Now? This minute?"

FB rolled his eyes. "No, but you could go out in your lunch hour and get them."

Second Born sensed his opening and launched his bid. "I've got a school trip today and I need a hat, scarf and gloves."

I looked at the clock. It was 7.12am. "Where do you expect me to get you a hat and gloves at 7.12am, when I am not even dressed yet and you have to be in school in about an hour?"

Second Born was not disheartened. "Oh and yesterday when I was out, I needed my cagoule and it wasn't in my schoolbag."

Red rag to semi-naked bull. The packing of schoolbags (other than the daily lunches) is a boy task. It is their responsibility, not mine. They know this.

I rallied a bit. "Well, you are supposed to pack your own bag, aren't you?"

Reluctant nod.

"Right then. So where have you looked for your cagoule?"

Puzzled stare. What is this "looked" of which you speak?

I sigh. "You mean you haven't looked for it. You discovered yesterday that you did not have your cagoule. You spent a couple of hours last night watching TV, playing with Lego and fighting with your brother. You sat with me for half an hour while I read to you. And yet you never once mentioned the missing cagoule. Or the hat, scarf and gloves for that matter. You decided to keep that information for this morning?"

Second Born is starting to back away now. But I am on a roll: "Go and look for your cagoule. You can whistle for the hat and gloves because you have lost every hat and pair of gloves I have ever bought. You have a scarf somewhere. Look for it while you are looking for your cagoule." I am quite loud and emphatic by this point. Second Born is halfway down the stairs wishing he'd never mentioned it.

I turn to First Born who is already reversing out the door saying "You don't have to get the pumpkin just now, Mum!" Well gee, thanks. And here was me about to hit Sainsbury's in my mis-matched and well worn undies to hunt for a pumpkin and half a ton of chocolate. I suppose I can get dressed now instead.

If I was more gullible naive , I might be flattered that my children seem to believe I am some sort of Wonderwoman, capable of producing clothing, chocolate and root vegetables from thin air. But 10 years of parenting have taught me that they don't worship me as some omnipotent being (at least not any more). They just can't be bothered doing stuff and finding stuff themselves. After all, as Second Born said "You're so much better at looking than I am". Chancers.

EDITED TO ADD: For the benefit of transatlantic readers (Hi Daysgoby!), a cagoule is one of those thin waterproof jackets that you can squash up into a bundle about the size of a tennis ball.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Sad news

I am very sad tonight. I am afraid that I have grave news to impart. We have suffered a devastating loss in the family (or at least I have). An old friend upon whom I had come to rely, is no more. True, he had not been quite himself for some time, having difficulty moving quite as smoothly and efficiently as he used to. He struggled a bit to deal with the sort of workload that, in his prime, he made short work of. He was no longer fashionable either, and doubtless some people who met him smirked a bit at his appearance. But that never bothered me. I could see through external appearances, to the helpful, dedicated, dependable sort he was.

In fact, I recognised him the very first time I met him, saw at once that he was what I needed, that he could fulfil a role in my life that nothing else could. He was actually living in my mother-in-law's house at the time but I didn't let that stop me. I enticed him away. Actually, it wasn't that difficult as she really wasn't that keen on him and considered him, if anything, a bit of a waste of space. I knew different and welcomed him into my home where he has been ever since. Until Sunday. First Born and I were making bread. And we killed my Kenwood Chef.

That's him there. In all his made-in-the-Seventies orange splendour. With, I hope you note, a proper stainless steel bowl, none of that plastic rubbish. We were trying to recreate the Swiss Sunday Bread that First Born found so addictive and decided that, rather than knead it ourselves, we would be lazy and stick the Kenwood on with the dough hook. All went well for a couple of minutes, I was washing up and FB was watching the dough bouncing around the bowl when suddenly Kenwood (as I like to call him) had a sort of fit. He speeded up to maximum without warning and then ground to a halt. An ominous smell of burning filled the kitchen. I leapt over to him, my heart in my mouth and switched him off. I frantically checked him over, Husband heard the commotion and came to see if he could help, but it was too late. His motor had gone. I pronounced him dead.

Now I don't know what to do - I don't think I could take to one of those new fangled mixers all clean and sensible-coloured and without that distinctive whining groan that Kenwood had when he started up. Sigh. Well, I suppose I should be grateful that he had such a good time in his final years once I stole him gave him a loving home. For example, I bet you he lasted longer than any of the other orange Seventies stuff he used to share a kitchen with.

(You can click on that photo to enlarge it if you are brave enough to cope with that wallpaper as well as my youthful girning.)

And do you know the worst thing? I got the bread recipe off the internet and it was AWFUL. Even FB wouldn't eat it.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Hello! I' m back! Want some chocolate?

The silent spot was for a good reason this time, folks. We are just back from Geneva. Husband had a judgely huddle to attend at WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation although I like it better in French when the acronym is OMPI) and the boys and I sort of just tagged along. Inconspicuous, like. We didn't actually attend the seminars, although I am sure they would have been absolutely rivetting, judging by the breeze block-sized folder of papers Husband brought back with him.

We arrived on Sunday to find that Geneva had increased its policy of giving out-of-towners free public transport and they now give free travel from the airport to the city too. On a train. A clean train that leaves on time. Miraculous. Why can't Edinburgh do this? Oh yeah, our airport doesn't have a train line and even the much lauded new trams aren't quite going to reach the airport. Duh.

Anyway, Sunday in Geneva was lovely, sunny and mild and we wandered along the lake and had lunch outdoors. Followed by dinner that evening in the hotel restaurant, which sounds rather a dull thing to do until you know where we were staying. The Hotel Edelweiss, which is exactly twice as twee as it sounds. The decor kind of looks like the writer of Heidi ate too much chocolate and designed it in a cuckoo-clock-induced delirium. It was great. More gingham, flowers and carved wood than you could shake a stick at. And the restaurant was even more so. Covered, just COVERED in cow bells and alphorns and chairs with lovehearts carved in the back. There was live yodelling, tunes played on a long string of cowbells held by obliging members of the audience and an alphorn so long the guy had to go upstairs to be able to play it. We ate fondue. It kind of felt compulsory, as the entire hotel, including the World's Smallest Lift smelled of cheese fondue. You kind of got used to it.

On Monday Husband went conferencing and the boys and I went exploring, discovering that the little yellow boats called "mouettes" ("seagulls") were more fun than walking anywhere, even if walking would have been quicker. We explored the old town, went to two museums which were closed and one which was open, ate lunch in the open again and bought the boys a little Swiss Army knife each. They both promised faithfully to be responsible and careful with them and once each of them had inflicted minor cuts on themselves, they actually were. In fact Second Born likes the nail file and tweezers best and First Born just likes using the toothpick to do his Al Capone impression (an impression much improved by the scars on his face he picked up arguing with a bush earlier in the day). Second Born also took many photos of us with the Jet d'Eau (that big fountain spouting out of Lake Geneva) apparently coming out of our heads.

On Tuesday we hung out in museums (Second Born translating hieroglyphs for us and explaining how after you die you have your heart measured against the feather of truth. The security guard was mightily impressed) and then in the evening took a bus into France to visit an old friend of ours who now lives in France but works in Geneva. For dwellers of an island nation, the concept of jumping on the local bus to go to another country for dinner was a bit weird and we were definitely the only ones on the bus who were excited at the sight of the border crossing (where the bus didn't even stop) And when I say "we" were excited, I mean Husband and I. Both boys had decided to have a nap instead.

Dinner was fantastic and our friend's wife, who we were meeting for the first time was lovely. Their son who is nearly 1 was endearingly cute - just at the stage where crawling around and waving spatulas pinched from the kitchen is the height of fun. We ate, drank and talked until the boys got bored, and then carried on talking while they sighed and muttered about wanting to go home. They were fortunately instantly appeased by the production of a laptop, the small boy equivalent of a pacifier. Our hostess then kindly drove us back into Switzerland (10 minutes away) so we could catch a tram home. Second Born was slighty nervous on trams after one earlier in the day had tried to eat his foot when the doors closed on him. Bravely he decided to risk going on one again though. He just leapt on at the speed of light the minute the doors opened.

On Wednesday we again took advantage of our free travel and took a bus to the French border where we got off, walked into France and took a cable car up a mountain for a walk. It poured with rain so we felt quite at home. When we got back to Geneva, we briefly went for a walk to find some chocolate but it was raining so heavily that we eventually abandoned the idea and went back to the hotel to slob around until it was time for dinner, which we had in a little restuarant round the corner. The boys were pretty much adopted for the evening and we even managed to get both children to order their own dinner and drinks, and even converse a little in French. Dessert was then taken in an ice cream shop over the road from the hotel where Second Born had discovered "the best chocolate ice cream on the planet" (his own words and he has carried out a fair amount of market research on the subject over the years).

Husband and I had coffee and a little bit of ice cream (just to be sociable, you understand) and Second Born had a bowl of ice cream the size of his head. First Born of course could not participate as even the sorbet had some milk in it (sacrilege!) so had to make do with the biscuits I keep stashed in my rucksack for such eventualities. The lady in the ice cream shop was very very sympathetic. I think that the Swiss are so steeped in dairy produce (cheese, chocolate, ice cream) that the thought of being allergic to milk touches them very deeply. She re-appeared with a plate of fresh fruit and a sympathetic pat on the head for First Born.

On our last morning, we ate the by now traditional huge breakfast, and in the case of the boys, I mean huge. Eight year old Second Born ate: bowl of cereal, pot of yogurt, two sweet pastries, couple of slices of yeast bread, slice of smoked turkey, little ball of Babybel cheese, slice of ordinary bread with Nutella on it and hot chocolate to drink. 10 year old First Born had three glasses of apple juice, bowl of cornflakes (no milk), several slices of ham and about three quarters of a loaf of the yeast bread. We had to ask the other diners what the bread was as he was so enthralled with it, he wants me to try to make it at home! Husband and I of course were very restrained and simply drank coffee and nibbled on some muesli. Ahem.

We then went chocolate hunting. In a shop called Zogg. Who could resist buying chocolate from Zogg? We were relatively restrained, only bringing back a little box of "paves de Geneve" for ourselves. Second Born got a house brick made of chocolate and the boys both brought some presents back for friends, including Swiss Army knives made of chocolate. First Born again excited the sympathy of the lady running another chocolate shop with his milk allergy and she plied him with sugared almonds to make up for his obviously deprived upbringing! (He liked them so much we went back to buy some to take home at which point the lady stressed that she had not given the sweets to FB to persuade us to buy them, or even because she felt sorry for him but because "he is such a nice, well educated young boy". Clearly a generous lady but a poor judge of character!).

We wandered back to the airport and returned to a wet and VERY windy Edinburgh. The flight into Edinburgh airport can best be described as "bouncy" So now we are at home again, enjoying a day of lazing around before we gird our loins ready for the return to work and school. My ability to speak French was of course improving a little just as we were due to leave and will have thoroughly rusted up again by the time I visit another French speaking country.

In other news Second Born and I have both confirmed our entries for the Great Winter Run in Edinburgh on 10 January 2009. Those of you who run, come and join us. Those of you (the sensible ones) who don't, come and cheer us on/perform CPR/plie us with chocolate.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Okay, deep breath

I am very annoyed with myself. I have given myself some very severe tickings off but myself is just shrugging her shoulders and eating another Abernethy biscuit. Myself is, if truth be told, a bit wayward at the moment. People are looking at me rather oddly in the street as I mutter to myself. They looked at me even more oddly in the gym on Sunday when I was swearing at myself under my breath as I lumbered along on the dreadmill.

The reason for this slightly schizophrenic irritation? In May of this year I was fit enough to run the Great Edinburgh Run. 6 miles through the slightly odorific streets of Edinburgh and whilst I did not run all the way, I did finish on my own 2 feet rather than in the back of an ambulance. I was also a couple of dress sizes smaller than I am now. Bah. I have not run properly since then and the combination of no exercise and that whole pesky depression malarkey means that in terms of fitness and diet, the summer has been a spectacular wipeout. (Don't get me wrong, the poutine and ice cream in Canada were wonderful, just not very good for me.)

I have tried in a rather pathetically half-hearted way to get back into the swing of things over the past couple of weeks and have failed. So I have reverted to the only sure fire method I know: the threat of public humiliation.

I have signed up for the Great Winter Run.

For those of you not from Edinburgh (or from Edinburgh and sensible enough not to do this kind of stuff) this is a 5k (3 mile in old money) run round Arthur's Seat in the dead of winter. Arthur's Seat is a big extinct volcano type thing in the middle of Edinburgh. In other words, a hill. The run is on 10 January 2009 and last year, when Second Born ran the junior version, it was so cold the lochs had frozen over and the swans were skiting about on the ice. So I have voluntarily signed up, and paid good money, for the privilege of getting out of bed early on a winter's morning in Edinburgh and running up a hill and down again like a sad, saggy, middle-aged Duke of York. Without the ten thousand men.

I am now trying to bully various work colleagues into doing it too. "Come on! It'll be fun! They've got paramedics on site, what's the worst that could happen?!" I think my sales technique could do with some polishing.

On the plus side, the looming threat of doing this in public will definitely get me out running again. Probably.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Sorry, there's a lump in my throat and something in my eye.....

Husband was home early today and was accordingly in charge of boy-wrangling, including homework supervision and force feeding of fish fingers. After the offspring were in bed, Husband showed me First Born's school Language Jotter - an exercise book where they practice creative writing and do guided reading exercises. It was brilliant. First Born has always been a one-of-a-kind sort of child, but reading his little creative writing compositions just confirmed for me how brilliant he is. (I know I am biased but I don't care.)

One of the exercises required him to write a few paragraphs that were openings for stories - just the openings, not full stories - so they had to be immediately arresting, grabbing the imagination. First Born did not disappoint (original spelling left intact!):

"And I want all are men to be transported to France imeditly!" Hitler sighed. It wasn't all that easy being the German leader.

Or how about:

Mr Carnigee put down the phone and gave a sigh. Knock! Knock!
"Come in" said Mr Carnigee. In came a tall, thin man wearing a pinstriped suit and his features were hidden under his wide brimmed hat, except for his red eyes.
"I think you and I should have a chat, Carnigee!" he said.
"No! No! No!" said Mr Carnigee as the man moved closer......

Or there is always the character he had to create to star in a story. He had to draw a picture of the person he imagined and describe him in detail. He came up with "Ray" who apparently, and I quote "enjoys a cigarette now and again and is very fond of olives". He is also "a little fussy". I think I might have met this guy.

But the best of the lot was entitled "My Heros":

"My heros are my parents becase they've helped me through my life, and on countless times they've convinced me that I can do things I thought I couldn't, and they've hardly let me down. An example of when they convinced me was when I was nervos about going to rugby and my mum told me to just have a go and try my best."

*Sniff* I think we are going to have to keep him now.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

What were we thinking?

Husband and I went to a party last weekend. An honest-to-goodness, out after dark without the children, party. A friend of Husband's is about to turn 40 and decided to celebrate the fact with an 80s themed do, given that all of us who are 40 or thereabouts had our finest moments growing up in the 1980s. All guests had supplied a picture of themselves from the said decade (Husband's was of himself playing in the band he was in at school and mine was taken by Husband in about 1987 and showed me with my growing-out perm. Classy.)

We entered into the spirit of the thing by taking along a bottle of Blue Nun. Did you know they still made that stuff? Neither did I until Saturday. It now comes in a blue glass bottle making it look just a little like a very expensive bottle of window cleaner. (Don't worry, we also took along something drinkable.)

The conversations with the other guests were hilarious. There was a large poster on the wall displaying all the photographs which had been sent in and we had a great time figuring out who was who and discussing the fashion/hairstyle choices. Now, I had always thought that I was not really much of a fashion victim in the 1980s. I never went out dressed like Madonna, for example. But in the discussions on Saturday night I realised that in fact, I wore some pretty abysmal stuff in my teens. Really. You want details? OK, here goes:
  • legwarmers. Need I say more.
  • fishnet tights. Electric blue fishnet tights.
  • jeans so tight I could barely move and had to lie down flat to zip them up. Any sign of a slight flare in the leg was a direct route to social suicide.
  • one of those scarves with gold thread through it, worn wrapped around the neck with the point at the front so you looked sort of like a Broadway version of a terrorist
  • bright red baggy dungarees, worn loose with the legs rolled up to mid-calf, with a yellow collarless shirt underneath. And a leopard print chiffon scarf tied round my (permed) hair with a big bow on the top. I wish I had a photo of this one.
  • metallic pinky-purple lipstick. It came from Miss Selfridge and the shade was called "Boy Gorgeous" It made your teeth look yellow.
  • electric blue mascara. To match the tights, presumably.
  • My dad's black cashmere V neck sweater. Worn back to front with the V at the back, accessorised with a double string of pearls. What was that whole V back thing?
  • Hairspray. LOTS of hairspray.
  • White court shoes (I am so ashamed)
  • Black fingerless gloves, which went well with the........
  • nail varnish. My dad took one look at this combo and declared that it looked like I had dropped a brick on my fingers.
  • Brown trilby hat. John Taylor had a lot to answer for.
  • Ra-ra skirt. Least said the better.
  • Grey and red striped boating jacket.
  • White high necked blouse with purple and black pinstripes and a bow at the neck. Ack.
Looking back at the list of stuff I was impressionable enough to wear in public, I am now slightly less surprised that my friends also managed to make me go to see Kajagoogoo in concert.

Right. Your turn. Make me feel better in the comments with your fashion faux pas. Or just laugh at me, whatever you prefer.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

I'm waiting for the custard pie

I had a revelation today. I now know what my role in the family is. When the boys were babies and toddlers, it was clear - I was the mummy, feeding, nappy changing etc. Now that they are boys I am still required for my pocket-money giving and cookie-baking skills but they are really more interested in their dad for the fun stuff. Which is as it should be. However I do appear to have acquired one other role: straight man.

You may recall that the title of this blog is a direct quote from Second Born aged about 4 when he sized up my attempts to lose weight and firm everything up at the gym. I should have seen then where this was going. And in fact, when I think about it, I was the butt of First Born's very first joke. When he was a baby, just learning to talk, his party trick was to respond to various words. If you said "cow" he would say "moo". If you said "dog" he'd say "woof". And if you said "mummy" or "daddy" he would try to repeat it. One day, he must have been a bit distracted (at least I choose to believe so). Because when we said "mummy", he said "woof". Instant hilarity. Every grown up in the vicinity (myself included) fell about laughing. First Born is not daft. He could spot a good act. After that, every time someone said "Mummy" to him, he replied, with great glee, with "Woof!!" And it worked every time.

Scroll forward to last week and the whole Pokemon servant thing. And now, my dear Husband has been showing my impressionable children this*. So it will come as no surprise to any of you to learn that if I now express an opinion on any subject (bedtime, suitability of Nintendo for playing before school, the gold standard) I am met with a chorus of "Women! Know your limits!" followed by hysterical giggling. I'm doomed.

*In case anyone is worrying, that clip was put in context for them. I'm not that daft!