Showing posts from 2012

A Christmas Tale

A bit of a self-indulgent post, this one, and I'm grateful to anyone who endures to the end of it! Each year, after the Christmas festivities are ended, we strip the Christmas tree we chose with such care and haul it to the Christmas tree graveyard to be ground down by the Council. It's a sad sight seeing all those trees, once so cherished, abandoned in a heap, shreds of tinsel still hanging off them. My children were so grieved we decided to write a story about it. My 10-year-old was the creative director and illustrator and I was the scribe...  Deep in the dark cold wood stood a tiny fir tree. Its towering neighbours cast their shadows all around it and blocked out the sky and the tiny tree never saw the sun. It grew colder. One day something wet and white landed on the tiny fir tree. Another followed, then another. The fir trees stood knee deep in the snow and their branches drooped beneath the weight of it. The tiny fir tree did not know it, but Christmas was appr

Round Robin II

Dear [ Name to be supplied. Note to Vicar: check your address book for anyone we've left out ], Well, would you believe another twelve months has gone by and we are all a year older (and wiser, of course!!) than we were this time in 2011! And that means it's a whole year since I tried my hand at the art of the round robin, inspired by so many wonderful newsletters from dear friends I'd forgotten I had! As a raw beginner, I only managed a few pages of my own because ones lunch dates and the little successes of ones children all tend to merge into a golden haze over the course of a year, but this time I've kept a detailed daily diary so I'll be able to share properly with you the highs and lows family life in 2012!! As the Vicar and I were only saying to each other last week, our children never cease to amaze us! The year began well for the 8-year-old. He came home from school to tell us that he had come second in his class! It turned out that he was on the second

Doing What I Want

'You', says my 10 year-old as I march her a mile to school instead of defrosting the Skoda, 'only ever do what you want!' I point out that I only ever do what is good for her, but my words evaporate in the chilly morning air, for children only acknowledge that a thing is in their best interests if they enjoy it. Thus, in my daughter's eyes: My sitting for an hour on the floor of a leisure centre corridor while she learns gymnastics is good for her. My sitting for an hour on a cupboard ledge while she reluctantly learns to swim is doing what I want. Browsing T-shirts in Hollister is good for her. Buying supper at Coop is doing what I want. Submitting to an iPod for her birthday is good for her. Barring her from Facebook is doing what I want. Crumpets in front of the TV is good for her. Wholemeal sandwiches is doing what I want. An afternoon of Diary of a Wimpy Kid at the cinema is good for her. Making her walk there is doing what I want. Clean she

Shrinking Horizons

'Why,' asks my 8-year-old, 'does Monday come before Tuesday?' 'Who has the longest toes in the world?' 'Does anyone in the world have no coins, only banknotes?' My son dislikes silence. He'll fill any gap in the din of family life with a question and these questions bother me; not because I don't know the answer, but because I don't care. It's not that I don't have an enquiring mind. I wonder why facial moles sprout bristles, why my cakes never rise, why the Vicar hates spinach and why Uggs became fashionable. I ponder things of consequence, you see, and my son's unthinking enquiries are a frivolous interruption. But at night sometimes, when the incessant voice is stilled, I ponder the mind of an 8-year-old. A mind in which men caper on toes like Savaloys or wait helplessly beside slot machines with wallets burdened with banknotes. I require beer or unconsciousness to achieve such surrealism and, in those night hours, I wi

When the Proof's in the Pudding

My ten-year-old is a rock-chick, but she still wants to believe in Santa. I field her technical enquiries with carefully-worded half-truths, but something still troubles her. 'Why,' she asks, 'does Santa forget some children?' I consider reference to the Human Poverty Index then grab my stock response to her profounder theological questions: 'Some mysteries are beyond our understanding!' Her brother intervenes: 'If Santa exists why didn't he eat the mince pies we left out?' Damn! I hate mince pies. Then I'm inspired. 'Because Santa prefers chocolate,' I reply. 'This year leave a brownie and I guarantee it'll be gone by Christmas morning!' This photo is the prompt for the latest 100-Word-Challenge and as usual Julia timed it perfectly!

Business Magnate

Ten years ago I decided to become the boss of a small business. The staff was minimal – just me, one part-timer (the Vicar) and a couple of advisors. The overheads, however, were enormous. Eye-watering figures were spent investing in infrastructure and researching core strategies. But what I hadn't bargained for was the emotional cost: the sleepless nights; the anxiety when projected deliverables failed and the fear that storm clouds would scupper my blue-sky thinking. I wonder why it has taken everyone else until this week to realise that parenthood and corporate management are the self-same thing. Mothers, some expert has belatedly acknowledged, are essentially CEOs of a small business – it's just that the assets are infants and the core product body fluids. Why, (also this week) it was calculated that over seven days during Christmas we CEO mothers perform £2,500 worth of work, ranging from chef to chauffeur. What a triumph it is for the sisterhood to know that their

In Memoriam

Grey is the prompt for this week's 100 Word Challenge . Some twenty years ago, when I wandered through a Richmond cemetery, I came upon a grave that stopped me in my tracks. I visited several times over the following few seasons and I know I shouldn't have peeked, but I'm glad I did for the memory of it has inspired me ever since. She was 14 when she died. A letter, taped to the headstone, told of teenage grief at the loss of a soulmate and pictured teenage revelry at discos in Heaven. For two years the letters continued. As earthly adolescence brought rows at home and trouble with the police, the dead friend lived on as a confidante. The world would have seen tough young troublemakers, but it was bewildered souls with an innocent faith in the afterlife who unburdened themselves to the 'angel' who empathised. And I, who had read despair in that grey tombstone, now, through their certainty, gained hope.

Fashion Guru

Children, I read, are hogging appointments with personal shoppers at posh department stores because their mothers are too busy to keep abreast of the latest wardrobe must-haves. Now I frequently fear that, when it comes to motherhood, I'm a failure. I rush to check my blog stats before I greet my children. I shout at them when they're obtuse about decimals and supper is often a panicked improvisation with the Vicar's breakfast leftovers. But deficient as I am, my daughter does have a personal shopper. Me. And I am expert in the latest wardrobe must-haves. In winter I am tireless in my pursuit of insulating thermals. I steer her knowledgeably away from kitten heels in Barratts to the supportive rubber soles of Clarks. I can sniff out a polyknit from a hundred yards and my sartorial savvy allows me to guage, at a glance, the most durable pyjamas and the most washable wools. But does my ten-year-old appreciate this personal service that unluckier children have to pay for

Devil Child

The prompt for this week's 100 word challenge is  I really tried not to laugh . Which means I had no choice but to write about what happened after the Sunday service this week.  My son hurried to the church hall to snaffle Oreos. His blond head bobbed angelically amid the faithful and I watched with pride as he beguiled a bevy of rapt ladies. Then I glimpsed the iPod. The ladies were posing for portraits and waiting expectantly for the results. I darted forward, but too late. With five finger taps he'd deprived the churchwarden of her hair and aged her twenty years. The ladies from the choir had gained ten stone apiece and grown moustaches. And the Vicar? I really tried not to laugh as I realised that for 13 years I've been sharing my pillows with this:

Growing Pains

'You'll come to my parenting session on sex?' begged the headteacher grabbing my tweed elbow and steering me into the school hall. The lady sent from the council to make us face up to our anatomies scrawled biological terms on a white board then addressed the captive mothers. 'What,' she asked, 'is the average age that girls reach puberty?' '12?' ventured the bravest of us. '14?' 'Eight!' said the lady triumphantly and wrote 'eight' on the white board. There was a bewildered murmur from the audience. Only I was unsurprised. Puberty, I've learned, is not heralded by packs of Bodyform Ultra or incipient bristles. It begins with a rash of equally unnerving symptoms, none of which biology guides warn you about. And in our vicarage it commenced around the age of seven. It's taken me a couple of years to realise what these symptoms signified and I was about to share my wisdom with the anxious mothers in the sex sessi

The Function of Mothers

Compliments, say researchers, are a sounder currency than cash when it comes to motivating people.  I read this with interest. Efforts to bribe my children to perform basic domestic functions have failed. A carnage of Barbies obscures my daughter's carpet and flung socks and sweet wrappers track my son's progress through the week.  And so I changed tack. 'Your hair looks like Emma Watson's,' I told my 10-year-old, 'and you sing like Adele. Now will you wash up your supper things!'  The silence was deafening.  'You're always telling me not to act older,' she retorted at last. 'Well, washing up is what mums do.' This week's prompt for the 100 Word Challenge is the silence was deafening . As you can see I am accustomed to this phenomenon. If 50p extra pocket money a week and fawning flattery don't work, what else do you suggest I try?

Daily Mail Columnists Should Wear Burkas

Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones has provoked the ire of Twitter with by declaring that mummy bloggers are blinkered dimwits whose lives are spiced by Napisan. I'm afraid I have to sympathise with her, for all of her prejudices echo my own: Writing about my life has pretty much ruined it. Supper last night was an elderly carrot glued to the fridge shelf by a pool of brown mucus and the floor was flooded when I left the bath taps running because Blogger has diverted me from domestic essentials. I've had to shut the children in front of the television when a new post has assailed me and some family members no longer speak to me because Twitter interactions leave me no time to reach the telephone. But there is a big part of me that thinks writing should be hard: you should cringe whenever you press that 'publish' button. Artists – and I'm sorry, I do consider myself an artist – have to wrench the dirtiest, most disgusting part of their inner soul and show it t


It is the Sunday service and the Vicar is preaching about mementos. We all gaze appreciatively at his late father's qualification from the Royal Institute of Chartered Accountants and his certificate from the Royal Life-Saving Society. Then he draws out a large framed photo of his sister's old school friend. Note to self: find where the Vicar keeps this photo and substitute a portrait of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. The friend, he tells the assembled cubs and scouts, had raven hair and filmic cheekbones and, on a family trip to a fairground, he made sure that he shared a pod with her on one of the rides. Unfortunately the ride was a fast and furious one and unfortunately he had just eaten a large portion of chips. The vicar-to-be threw up all over the school friend's shapely knees. The memory, he says, came back to haunt him last year when he saw his sister's old friend in the national newspapers - and he draws forth another framed photo: If it hadn&#

More than a Mother

My name is 'E and G's Mum' and I am a mother: Stimulating my children through public indignity I don't always look like that, obviously. Sometimes I look like this: Nurturing my children with Fairy non-biological And on occasion, when I leave the house, I look like this: Hunter-gathering My main place of work, as many of you have already seen, is here: Hub of the house My evenings are spent reading bulb catalogues under a woolly tartan rug in an armchair while the Vicar sits under a woolly tartan rug on the sofa and plays Angry Birds. It was not always like this. No, once upon a time I answered to Anna. I read the paper over hot tea in at breakfast time and I thought a wet wipe was a killer cocktail. In those days my place of work was an ergonomic chair in a glass office with a latte machine. And in those days I could sweep men off their feet: My two-day body guard training course And transport them to heavenly spheres:

Miss Malaprop

‘Mummy,’ announces the 10-year-old, ‘is too tired to exclaim her consequences!’ As her ambition outstrips her vocabulary, her conversation becomes rivetingly surreal. She admonishes the Vicar for nitpicking: ‘Don’t be so nutritious [pedantic]!’ She sympathises with a friend who has been insulted. ‘I’d feel very bedraggled [dismayed] if someone said that to me!’ and exclaims in disgust when her brother exhibits a half-chewed Malteser: ‘That’s a bad privilege [habit]!’ I love this fearless manipulation of language. My children, armed with a handful of primary-school nouns, can make themselves understood more confidently in France than I can with my university degree, because they are oblivious to grammatical embarrassments and inventive of expressive alternatives. Only children could converse with the profoundly deaf teenager in our first parish, because they were unfettered by self-consciousness. They talked and gestured normally, whilst we adults smiled uneasily and scarpered. I


The picture is the prompt for this week's 100-word Challenge . The orange spot daubs trees that are to be felled to make way for the rest. It's an apt choice as our ash trees are incinerated, but it made me think of a worn leather album that records my family through the 1930 and 1940s. There's the woman in uniform beaming in a field, a teenage Hercules posed in a loincloth and a girl in a garden with dramatic tumbling hair.  Each died young and violently - the woman crushed during wartime training and the teenager electrocuted at work. The flowing-haired girl slit her throat.  I gaze at their smiles and hunt for a portent - a sign in their eyes that they knew Fate had marked them. But they gaze gaily back, vitality frozen in sepia. And now I fear future eyes finding my albums, studying the smiles of my children with the awful benefit of hindsight.   


Kate on Thin Ice has kindly offered me a Reader Appreciation Award. I don't fully earn it, however, until I have faced down an inquisition. I'm not sure my readers will appreciate wading through my mental trivia, but I'm always greedy for gongs so, with multiple apologies, here's my life story: Where do you do most of your writing/blogging? At a desk by the spare room window so I can keep an eye on the Vicar as he paces the parish and watch passing drivers discover the council's vicious new speed bumps. What books were your childhood favourites? Dostoevsky saw me through my first years of primary school. Oh, all right - it was Enid Blyton! I refused to read anything else until I was 15. Then I discovered Anne of Green Gables and Tom's Midnight Garden and have yet to find anything to match them. Who is your favourite fictional character? Anne of Green Gables, obviously. And the murderess in My Cousin Rachel (Daphne du Maurier). Have you ever Goo

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 parag

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 hampe

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&


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!


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

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.  

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 help


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 mo


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. 

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.

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

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.

Agony Aunt

A stranger has sought me out in the blogosphere hoping for advice on 'wearing my wife's shoes.' I'm quite happy to oblige. Wait, dear, until she's out shopping and have a trial run in the bedroom before flaunting them down at the Working Men's Club. You wouldn't want to make a fool of yourself - stilettoes, you see, can topple a man faster than a crate of Bishop's Finger. I'm less confident that I can steer the surfer questing 'elderly man in his jockstrap'. I'll keep a look out, for sure, but, you know, with so many pensioners cruising the aisles of Asda in posing pouches you might need to narrow the search down a little. When I began blogging nearly a year ago I was acutely aware that I had no wisdom to add to cyberspace. I love gardening, but the blogosphere is crowded with far more expert amateurs than me.  I'm pretty well schooled in consumer rights, but government websites have already done a thorough job on the Sale of