Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Halloween Tale

I used to hate Halloween. If I'd wanted kids to practise extortion with threats I'd have steered them towards a career in banking instead of sending them forth to wrest sweets from old ladies. And I'd never believed in ghouls.

Then came my comeuppance. At nightfall, while trick or treaters roamed our streets, I was ambushed by a monster. It was a scrawny, slimy monster with purple flesh and scaly legs. There was a dripping hole where its face should have been and two pulsing bulges for eyes.

My tranquil nights became hellish. The monster roared through the darkest hours. It seeped toxic mucus and it gnawed at my flesh. The more it gnawed, the larger it grew and slowly I realised that it wasn't my flesh it was gnawing, it was my heart.

My monster had enslaved me and, in doing so, he had turned me into a monster. I would have vanquished any soul who prevented his flourishing and felled any predator who caused him harm.

And he had turned me into a paragon. I would surrender my last morsel for his nourishment and lay down my life for his own.

In the eight years since, I have tamed my wee monster and he has transformed me. The terror, if anything has grown. That long-ago night it was the threat of the unknown; now it's the fear that I might fail him.

But these days, though I still hate trick or treating, I embrace Halloween with gusto, for I've learned that life without that terrifying arrival would be monstrous.

Happy Birthday to my little boy!

Friday, 26 October 2012

It's a Dog's Life

I do not, as a rule, like shopping unless it involves a stationery department or soil conditioners. Today, however, my 10-year-old begged to visit Harrods. She wanted to sketch out her future living spaces for when she realises her ambition to be a primary school teacher/hair-dresser/Burberry model. The 7-year-old was also eager. He hoped for fragrant lotions in the in-store lavs.

And so we trudged among Egyptian pillars and, when we reached the fashion-wear, I began to be interested. For amid the designer plaid, taffeta and leopard-print loucheness I could have bought a £95 pilot's uniform with a cap, a French maid's outfit for when the Bishop comes calling or, in readiness for Halloween, a fetching green witch's disguise.

In furnishings, furred sofas are so much more 'Now' than leather and everyone's accessorising their bespoke four-posters:

The patisserie, for a three figure fee, will cater for parties and there are delicacies in the wicker hampers that would definitely defeat Delia.

I'd hoped for more leopard-print on the push chairs and travel cots, but found it among the cuddlies in the toy room:

But it wasn't until we passed the spa that I began to covet wealth. My blocked pores ached for a blueberry and vanilla facial and a thalassotherapy mud bath. In the gym you can watch Hollywood films on a plasma screen while pounding to nowhere on the treadmill. A young woman, watching me peer at the price list, said she brings her companion here twice a week. 'Why not walk in Hyde Park?' I marvelled. ''You wouldn't get the films,' she replied patiently. '101 Dalmations is his favourite.'

After a glance at the glass jewellery cases and the matching designer luggage we were weary. Back down among the Egyptian pillars we hurried agog for our MacDonald's Happy Meal. Seems a shame, thinking back, that we never saw the splendours beyond Pet Kingdom!

PS Yes, all of the above are aimed at our nation's pooches. It's a comfort to know, in these times of austerity, that the beribboned pets of Knightsbridge are doing their bit to boost the economy. 

PPS Yes, they do sell four-packs of Converse-style lace-ups  and designer sunglasses for poodles.

PPPS I have it on good authority from the church stonemason that his taxi-driver brother conveyed a dog solo from from Mayfair to Belgravia for a canine fancy dress party. And back again. 

Warning: the cakes and pastries in the 'pawtisserie' may contain liver.  

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Braced for a Bishop

The Bishop, announces the Vicar, is coming to lunch next Sunday.
I am worried. Sunday lunch is always chipolatas and cornettos in our vicarage and this may not be suitably episcopal. What, I wonder, do bishops like to eat? 'Bread and wine!' retorts my scornful 10-year-old.

The Vicar is worried. He too fears that his Sunday morning schedule will expose the Bishop to chipolatas. Even more, he fears that I might Rise to the Occasion and ruin his social standing with my attempts at proper cooking.

The 10-year-old is worried. She suspects that small talk with a purple-frocked prelate, if word gets out, would be deemed an uncool weekend leisure activity by her school peers. And she knows that she might not get her Cornetto.

The 7-year-old is, however, serene. His talent for ingratiation should one day earn him a job in the Foreign Office. If his sister is in disgrace he'll curry favour with his father by voicing a religious vocation. If she rejects her dinner-time peas he'll fake wild joy in his greens. Now he senses an opportunity.

The 10-year-old has decided on rebellion. 'I'm going to wear my chavviest clothes!' she announces.
Quick as a flash her brother moves in. 'And I,' he lisps, 'am going to make sure I bring a Bible!'

PS What fail-safe, easy-cook meal can one feed a Bishop?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


The latest prompt from the 100-Word Challenge wants us to add 100 words to and winter will bring. You can tell from my crusted nails that I've been preparing tirelessly for what the coming season has in store... 

When, with creeping years and budget cuts, life seems full of endings, I seek refuge in the soil. From seeds, frail as dust, rainbows unfurl and beauty lies dormant in the ugliness of bulbs. Gardening is the art of patient hopefulness. We plant saplings we won't live to see mature. Amid the dying leaves of autumn we bury bulbs for a radiant spring. Ordure, too, has purpose. The days may darken and winter will bring its chill, but dung shields the sleeping life and nourishes when it wakens. When parents decline and recessions bite, I must recall the resilient hope of the gardener. And buy seeds!

Thursday, 18 October 2012


The government, this morning's news tells me, is launching an apprenticeship scheme for would-be spies. Until now I've assumed that, should redundancy claim me, my future will unfold behind a Tesco check-out. How else is a middle-aged mother, who no longer recalls what an isosceles triangle is, to earn the mortgage repayments?

But today middle-aged mothers must have jubilated, for who could be better qualified for state espionage than our nation's parents? We've spent years outwitting our children, decoding body language, sweet-talking officials and suppressing our  pre-parent identities. Who but a parent could secure unquestioning co-operation with a jelly bean? Glean, through deft reconnaissance, the contents of other children's school lunch boxes? Infiltrate the closed ranks of a toddler group?

I've been hastily redrawing my CV to highlight my requisite skills and I suggest that you all do the same for when the secret service comes calling.

Adaptability I react unfalteringy to my official pseudonyms - 'E and G's Mother', 'Father's Wife' - without ever betraying my true identity.

Cunning I can sneak spinach undetected into every known culinary dish bar Cornflakes.

Planning With an invisible sleight of hand I can alter the vicarage clocks so that the children's bedtime arrives an hour-and-a-half early.

Discretion Monthly I infiltrate my offspring's bedroom armed only with a black bin liner and remove, untraceably, possessions that could lucratively be sold on eBay.

Memory I can store in my head three dozen vital pieces of information, including the date of next week's netball match, the price of patio roses at Nottcutts, the number of Haribos left in the oft-pilfered bribery tin, the sum of years until my kids will leave home, the digits of my overdraft, the next three months of the Sunday School rota, the start times of Strictly Come Dancing, the birthdays of twelve key 9-year-olds, the Vicar's blood pressure readings and the expiry date of Waitrose's special offer on Bendicks Bittermints.

Sleuthing Confronted with a stash of sweetie wrappers inside a Co-Op bag inside a shoe box inside my 7-year-old's wardrobe I followed the trail to the depleted contents of the aforementioned bribery tin and laid appropriate traps.

Courage I knew one explosion had gone off and another was imminent. Yet, steely-nerved and oblivious to the toxic gases, I knelt down and prised off the laden knickers of a friend's toddler last week. 

Manipulation I can persuade my recalcitrant children to master their weekly spellings/endure a muddy hike/swallow a portion of peas with the power of a single word: MacDonalds.

Poise I can balance a lager, shaken, not stirred, in the midst of a vicious infant brawl and not spill a drop on the parquet.

Commitment Ten years of unreasonable demands, unpleasant threats, lengthy overtime and toxic substances have not quelled me. I remain unwaveringly devoted to my small charges.

PS Right on cue, the James Bond 007 fragrance has been launched which should convince your interviewers of your suitability should the fumes of Napisan skew their judgement.

So what skills can you offer MI6? Any disclosures will be treated with strictest confidentiality.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Thief of Time

It can't be that time is the sentence that must be incorporated into this week's 100-word-challenge. I believe I was uttering those very words as I read the prompt and realised I'd forgotten to scavenge the freezer for the children's supper.

Parents, says new research, need 27-hour in a day. This is clearly absurd – I need 32 to be the woman I'm meant to be. 
Lately my days have been shrinking faster than woollens on a hot cycle. I've shed superfluous distractions like dusting and cooking.
For essential activities I've learnt to multi-task: I can draft a blog-post whilst manuring my flowerbeds and dial Boden while helping my children through their Haribos.
Nevertheless, 'It can't be that time!' I panic as school beckons when I'm busy with my nap. Age eats into flesh, we know – but, with far greater ruthlessness, I realise, it devours Time.  

Sunday, 14 October 2012

One Year On

It was a year ago this Tuesday that an anchoress in Alaska unwittingly launched me into the Blogosphere. The Vicar, having read her latest theological wisdom, clicked a tab on her blog and propelled my own musings - on how to stand trendily at the school gate - onto the Worldwide Web.

Back then, before I'd heard of mummy bloggers and before my aged laptop permitted me onto Twitter, I blogged about the tooth fairy, my daughter's quest for biological enlightenment and the knitted breasts in the vestry. Twelve months have matured me. Now I write of swabbing midnight vomit, my daughter's quest an iPod and nipple tassles in the nave.

This cyber-journey has taught me many new truths:

that every domestic setback, from shredded tissues in the hot cycle to the embarrassing moment with the Bishop, has an underlying value - as a blog post!

that blogging accelerates children's mastery of life skills. Yep, ever since I began spending hours in isolation with my laptop my helpless pair have learned to bath themselves, make their own sandwiches and fathom the three remote controls required to switch on our TV.

that there are many more kindred spirits in cyberspace than in real life. Real-life mothers are never bored by childcare, never imbibe in daylight hours and never sleep in month-old sheets. Cyber mothers, on the other hand, stand shoulder to shoulder amid domestic mayhem - and are prepared to admit that they don't know where their iron is.

that my habit of peering through strangers' lighted windows is legitimate. Because that's what blogging is all about isn't it? I used to deem it nosiness; now I realise it's a cathartic sharing of life experience!

that you can have good friends that you've never met. The bloggers who propped me up when I took my first blundering steps, the tweeters who helped clean my burnt Le Creuset before the Vicar saw it and who turned forward rolls for me when I was bored once last week and all those who have bolstered my stats and my ego with comments. Each one of you would earn the highest token of my esteem - an inked entry in my address book - if I knew you in real life.


Thursday, 11 October 2012


I am perched on the rim of the boiler cupboard talking of cat food brands with a row of similarly balanced mothers. It's a weekly ritual. Before us a flotilla of heads bobs in pool which is loaned by a secondary school for swimming lessons. The chlorine smells of vomit. Possibly it is vomit for there are sinister scurf marks on the changing room floor. And all of a sudden it hits me that I shall look back on this unlovely routine with nostalgia when my children are grown.

So startling is this discovery that I consider other tedious childcare fixtures with new eyes. The Saturday morning battle over the Coco-pops in the mini-cereals selection pack, for instance, and the fractious pelt through the park to school. When, in my bath chair, I look back, I'll excise my shrillness and their complaints and remember only sunlit hopscotch over the dog turds. From my bath chair, in fact, even nit-combing will probably come to seem desirable.

When I am no longer indispensable, I shall mourn the fact that noone requires me to:

Manipulate deformed socks onto damp feet after swimming.
Write coded messages on serviettes to kill time in slow restaurants. 
Steer flailing legs along monkey bars in playgrounds.
Be hung with coats, book bags and toppling art work as they erupt past me out of school
Wait on frigid pavements for cubs/netball/drama/choir/riding to finish.
Flap instinctively behind me, whether or not they are with me, for two sticky hands whenever I cross a road.
Trick them into two miles of country walking with a randomly improvised treasure trail.
Conjure Albus Dubledore's facial hair out of bath foam. 
Explain thrice hourly why they can't get a bunk bed/iPhone/iPad/iPod/Facebook account/pierced ears/pack of pastrami sticks/pony/baby sister/baby rat.

I know this because, with the passing of toddlerhood, I already miss:

Nightly reading of The Tiger Who Came to Tea. 
Baking for the weekly birthdays of two dozen fluffy toys.
Eating flaccid cheese sandwiches on flaccid plastic chairs while making flaccid conversation at drop-in play centres.
Enduring the soundtrack of Disney Princesses shrilly avowing to be true to themselves on the M25.
Buying ten minutes of good humour with a jelly bean.
Explaining thrice hourly why they can't get a baby elephant/flying carpet/bedroom slide/wishing chair/candyfloss machine.

I decide, when we return from the swimming pool, to rejoice in the weekly shampoo ritual because one day they'll manage it without me. Twenty minutes, four stinging eyes, one pair of soaked jeans and an unswabbable floor flood later I am longing to be expendable. I may battle nostalgia in my bath chair, but I sure will enjoy the rest!

What do you most miss as your children grow? What mundane routines do you reckon you'll miss most when they've flown?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


The vandal who defaced the £50m Mark Rothko painting at Tate Modern this week did so, he claims, in the name of his one-man art movement, Yellowism. I do not agree with daubing art works, but I too have made great sacrifices for Yellowism.

The £60 of school dinner money spent on sacks of poo, for instance. That summer of pick-axing that has unstrung my back. The hours I've spent wandering garden centres instead of filling my trolley at Co-op and the nights my children have gone hungry while I've been crouched in the London clay.

Today the morning sun spot-lit my autumn border and this was the view from the breakfast table. The money, the hours and the seized-up shoulders have fused finally into a hymn to Yellowism and my children can have their mummy back again. For a season!

This is my contribution to The Gallery at Sticky Fingers which requires photos on a theme of yellow. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Worst Thing About Motherhood...

The prompt from this week's 100-word Challenge  at Julia's Place is I woke with another headache which effortlessly reminded me of two nights last month - and innumerable nights before that.

It's probably the worst thing about motherhood. And it's a thing they don't warn you of – those upbeat parenting manuals. 
The knock drags you from slumber in the small hours. 'I woke with another headache,' they wail. The wafts on the landing tell you the rest. Turgid with sleep you prioritise. Fill a bath for the vomit-soaked invalid; fill a sink for the foul-clotted bedding. You shampoo. You launder. You tuck them up, soap-scented, in clean sheets and you soothe them into serenity. 
Then, irreversibly awake, you return to bed and you realise: the power to relieve childish grief is probably the best thing about motherhood.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

How to Be Happy

Now that austerity has deflated national economies, governments are switching their attentions to that elusive asset: happiness. David Cameron plans an official assessment of the nation's spirits, China has launched a happiness index for local government officials and deep in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan a Gross National Happiness Centre is under development to teach its disproportionately suicidal citizens how to count their blessings.

The secret to happiness has, however, already been cracked by a housewife in a Manhattan penthouse. The Happiness Project, in which Gretchen Rubin set herself a 12-month deadline to achieve bliss, planted her at the top of the New York Times' bestseller list and now, after all that questing, she's found the darn thing - it was lurking in her own flat all the time.

Yours could be festering in your home too, unnoticed under the sofa cushions. To find it, according to Rubin in her latest DIY manual Happiness at Home: Kiss more, Jump more, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life, you have to start with 'redecoration of the self' (sorting out your cupboards). Then you are ready to create 'areas of super engagement' (a mantel of family photos/heirloom silver/grandad's collection of significant champagne corks). After that it's simply a case of drafting a kissing schedule to prove your love to your spouse and offspring, raining down gold stars and compliments, particularly on men, jumping about and going to bed early.

It's a relief to know that I'm on the right track. Dinner guests are always dislodged from our vicarage by 10pm. I jump on the children's trampoline whenever it rains violently and family and cats get a kiss each bedtime. The 30 volumes of my daily diaries occupy two shelves of 'super-engagement' in the dining room and I am ruthless in my binning of other people's possessions to make way for my own. I'm more into Samuel Pepys than Samuel Johnson but I'm expert at abandoning projects and my kids receive gold coins, one up on gold stickers, when they've accomplished their weekly chores.

It's not enough, though. Contentment, yes, and pleasurable smugness are induced by the above, but I've been experimenting for far longer than Rubin and I can exclusively reveal that complete happiness is impossible without these essential ingredients:

Achieving your desired slipway just as traffic grinds to a halt on a motorway.

Unblocking the sink. If your sink isn't blocked you can easily rectify the fact with a bowl of old porridge and some coffee grounds. Then treat yourself to the visceral thrill of pumping the rubber plunger over the plug hole and watching as, with a fulfilling belch, last week's washing up water suddenly swirls away. For some reason, the more regular task of picking dead slugs out of the kitchen drain, while prompting the same result, lacks that nameless joy. 

Nicking gum. You may not even like chewing gum. I don't. But stealing a piece from your children's illicit stash while you're dusting their bedroom mayhem gives it an unexpectedly enjoyable flavour. 

Creating a leaf pile. Don't worry if you don't have your own leaves - you can import them in bin liners from a neighbour's front garden. This is one of the few thefts they'll thank you for. Rake them into a large mound (this is in itself a peculiar pleasure) then take a running leap and bury yourself inside. It can be squidgy and you can often find the back of your neck becomes intimate with molluscs but it gets you under the skin of that most thrilling of all seasons, Autumn.

Removing the lid of the lavatory cistern. This is a joy I discovered early on in life and, nearly four decades later, it hasn't lost its potency. There's something wondrously soothing about watching the ball-cock sink as the cistern empties then rise with quiet majesty with the water level. Efficient sewage disposal suggests that all can be well in a disordered world.

A CD of John Rutter. Step 1: wait till dusk gathers and put on the lamps. Step 2: pour yourself a lager. Step 3: pile beside your armchair a decent detective story, a frivolous magazine, a woolly rug and the Boden catalogue. Step 4. Unleash Rutter.

A stationery drawer. This needs to contain a sheaf of Basildon Bond for the letters you mean one day to write and a couple of handsomely bound notebooks for the Great Thoughts you may one day have. It doesn't matter if Great Thoughts elude you. The fact that you have a worthy repository ready should one ever take you by surprise is enough to make you feel good about yourself. 

A utility room. I owned one of these for eleven months and it's fair to say I tasted bliss. Mr Sheen sat decorously beside Mr Muscle on the cleaning shelf, instead of rolling louchely together under last year's ironing, and I could reach for a lightbulb without summoning a child to haul me by my ankles from beneath the tower of homeless possessions flung into the under-stairs cupboard.

I too would like to top the New York Times bestseller list so spread the word and I'll share the royalties. And tell me - what tips can you add for DIY happiness in the home?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Marital Mysteries

The latest prompt for the 100 Word Challenge requires us to add 100 words to suddenly it was in my hand. For some reason my tax return sprang to mind, but as I tried to wrestle this into appropriate prose, I recalled a disconcerting revelation at the start of my marriage: 

It must have slithered somehow from its moorings for suddenly it was in my hand. My mother had warned me that marriage exposes many mysteries, but I hadn't anticipated this. In those early days it would unfurl in the most inconvenient places and, frankly, I was disappointed. It was thin, short and slippery – not the imposing specimen it had looked from afar. Nowadays, of course, I'm used to it. If I spot it where it shouldn't be I restore it reverently to its place. But I remain disconcerted by its measliness – the plastic dog collars that roam modern vicarages are shadows of their starched-linen predecessors.