Monday, 29 November 2010

We bunked off and made gingerbread

It was snowing this morning. So much snowing, in fact, that the 45 minute walk to playgroup and back again appealed about as much as kissing Michael Gove. Still, I tried. We dressed in 4 billion layers each, and walked with arms and legs swaddled in thermals to the buggy, which a) daughter refused to get in and b) wouldn't go in the snow anyway. Both children are born for the sunnier climes of South America or Spain, not rural Fenland, much to Yorkshire husbands disgust. By the time we had struggled down the road, buggy veering from left to right as I failed to discover the wheel lock, with my best impression of bad mother voice shrieking "Come ON! It's just a bit of snow!" whilst son wailed despondantly "It's getting in my EYES! My EEEEYYYYES!", I realised that this was not going to happen. For one, I couldn't really shout "Come ON!" for an hour in a blizzard, and secondly, daughter had flung herself from the buggy into the snow and was weeping. We turned back and happily plunged into the house again.

By 10.30 we had eaten all the crumpets and were shouting at each other. So we made gingerbread. This is simply the best gingerbread ever, it is exceptionally more-ish and, if you don't mind your kids getting dental caries for the sake of an hours peace, the kids will eat all of it if you let them. It's another wet/dry recipe, my absolute favourite type as they are virtually idiot and chidl proof. You will need:

Dry stuff: 225g plain flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 2 tsp bicarb, 1 and 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Sift.
Wet stuff: 55g butter, 115g soft brown sugar, 115g black treacle. Melt all together and leave to cool a bit. + (1 tbsp milk if needed for dough).
Mix it all together, until it turns into a dough. If it's too sticky and tough, add a bit of milk. Roll out to 5mm thickness and cut out shapes. I usually get about 25-30 assorted snails, squirrels and stars from this. Bake at gas mark 5 for 10-15 minutes, but a lot depends on the shape of the biscuit. Eat. All of them.

Whilst they were eating, I finally decided to crack on with using the sewing machine, which has been sitting and intimidating me. Having forced MIL to wind me lots of bobbins (I simply cannot do that yet), I grasped the nettle and a big stack of the cheap vintage pillowcases I keep buying because they are 10p, and decided to make some skirts for daughter, who thankfully doesn't care what she looks like yet, being 2. she will be in pillowcase outfits until she comes weeping to me and shows me photos of all her friends in Reebok or whatever, and even then i'll still moan.

So I chopped the top and end off of one fetching pillowcase featuring cars and bikes (she WILL not be girly, not if it's up to me. No pink here!) until it was a good skirt length. Then I turned it wrong side out, and straight stitched a pocket for elastic. At the bottom, I took a leftover bit of binding and sewed it around the hem, turned it right side out, and then sewed it around again. Wonky stitching covered. For skirt 2 I chose a green pillowcase, did the same thing, but this time without the binding edge and some ribbon instead, once i'd gotten the hang of sewing straighter.

Both skirts are very wonky and very amateur, but they took an hour of gingerbread eating and broke my machine virginity, so i'll always love them.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

It's MY 30 Minutes, damn you!

I think the thing I miss most about smoking (and I've already come to the conclusion that I am always going to be a smoker, even If I am not smoking), is not the nicotine, but the 3 minutes. It was 3 minutes standing outside, usually, with the most interesting people. I would take a breather (even though I wasn't, I was inhaling), and have 3 minutes away from whatever I was doing. I'd chat about something frivolous. When alone, my first and favourite fag was the one when I got home from work. I was never a first-thing smoker, I always went all day, but my first cig when I got in, before I started the marking, was just the best. On the balcony, 3 minutes just letting go of it all, breathing the commute into the air and starting the day again.

Of course, as soon as I realised I was pregnant with son, I stopped and didn't even notice, really. The observant ones will be saying, well, if you didn't have one till 6pm anyway, you're not addicted. Well, I was. But to the minutes, not the fags. I didn't notice pre-son, because I was busy, and my evenings were mine. I just replaced the evening cig with a devilish cake. Job done. It was only after son, and then daughter, that I realised that I was addicted, to my 3 minutes outside without any of them. Because ever since son was born, Jan 2007, I haven't ever had more than 30 minutes alone. Not ever. I poo in company: "Mummy, don't strain. Do you want a book? Stella has weed on the bed". I suppose there was a brief moment, as they took daughet to weigh her post labour, before 15 month old son and husband arrived as visitors, but I can't remember it. I spend my entire day, 6am, sometimes earlier, till 7.30,. with company of the most demanding type. I never have 3 minutes to nip outside and go "ahhhhh".

It was only as the nights are drawing in, and husband has been getting in earlier, at 7.30ish as opposed to 8, that I have felt the terrible urge to yell. 7.30 till 8 was MINE! It was me, sitting on the bed, reading, blissfully. Let me put you in the picture. 7 is bedtime. It starts at 6.30. We read, we argue about teeth, we threaten that there will be no stories if teeth are not cleaned, we resort to headlock. We read that stupid Bog Baby book 3 times, sing "My Bonnie" and then that is one down. She is out like a light, to gather her strength before she rises at 3am to demand that I straighten her duvet. Now. Boy has "Cops and Robbers" (at least Ahlberg is interesting) and no song. But he decrees I must stay upstairs till he is "actually asleep" which leads to lots of "Mummy? I am not asleep? Are you here?" and so I have taken to reading a book, yes a BOOK upstairs while he dozes off, before going down and doing husbands tea. I sound 1950's, but there is revolution in my veins.

That half hour is MINE! Without it, as I discovered when husband rocked up at 7.25 and prevented kid to bedding, and lost me my half hour, I am crazy enough to consider murder. Or a fag, again.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Easy peasy pie child pacifier banana cakes

It is 2 in the afternoon. A walk to the park in freezing polar wind resulted in increased snottiness and wails of "My feeeeeet!" from daughter, who is genetically designed to live in San Tropez, not the Fens, where there is no tree windbreak effect. Lunch was wrong, just wrong, the quiche being one with "bits in". The "bits" were lovely last week, but this week they are disgusting. Shrek is now rubbish, apart from that bit where he farts. The hobby horse has been converted into a weapon. Whatever one has, the other must have, or die in the attempt. It goes like this:

"I love my Princess Joanna, she is better than YOUR stupid army man"
"No, she is not. I love my army man, he is cool, look, he can jump"
"I want the army man"
"No. Give me Princess Joanna"
"No." (picks up weapon, which is, nearest to hand, a small Roary the Racing Car).
"But I want her." (edges to sofa, reaches underneath for debris he knows to be there, it's probably sharp and unhygienic, result!)
By 3pm, I am exhausted from shouting and referee work. The Scottish refs have it easy. Rather death threats from Celtic fans than being shut in this house for much longer. The only way out, the only way to bring peace, is to bake.
For some reason, even the most aggressive fight will cease when I shout I am baking. I have rules: you must share, you must not throw, and you must wash your hands, as a token gesture, even though I know you will pick your nose halfway through and eat raw egg. The prospect of licking the bowl out and eating cake often forces them to work together in some sort of entente, like France and England, being nice to eat other whilst quickly trying to eat as much of the cake mix as they can on the quiet. My own personal rule is that whatever cake we make must be prepared on the wet/dry basis, where you have one bowl of dry, one bowl of wet, then slap it all together.
These cakey muffiny things are quite the easiest and tastiest, and it matters not one jot of they turn out somewhat dense, as the banana provides an excuse for this.

You will need:
Dry bowl: 250 g Self-raising
1 tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarb
115 g caster sugar (or brown if you like things heavier).
Sift all this.
Wet bowl:
75g melted butter
vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten
125 ml milk
3 small or 2 medium black and squishy bananas, squished.

Mix! Bake at Gas 5 for 25 minutes. You can muffin or fairy cake them, makes no odds.
Eat them watching the fart bit in Shrek.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Go in and watch them sleeping.

When you've told them, over 4 hundred million billion willion times to say "please" and they still say "get me". Yes, i've actually chopped the poo in half to get it down the loo. No, I don't know if it will be ok in the sewers. Who has pulled the chair out from under the daughter? There is much bleeding, and wailing, and lying ("But I DIDN'T!!!!" "Er, I saw you?"). There is a chunk of hair in the bedroom, and the so-called safety scissors are gone. The food goes to the chickens, again, who are fat, and no, you cannot have a biscuit. A Jaffa cake IS a biscuit, actually. Alright, it's a cake-biscuit. Do not run to Grandma saying "What have you got for me now?" (I told her, to STOP BUYING STUFF!). Array of interesting scribble all over the wall. And a damp patch there. And there. 4 toilet rolls and a toy dog are down the toilet. I am not sure if they have been weed on. No-one knows. The chicken poo trodden into the rug is no-ones fault again. That dastardly fairy of chaos, was it? or the pair of you, in wellies? What is stinking behind the sofa? It cannot be identified. The hair is tangled, my dear, because you put a great glop of icing in it. No, it is not nice to sing songs about willlies in front of people. I don't care what Daddy does. No, leave it alone. Put the chickens down. Down, I said. Well, if you will pick them up like that. Go and change. No, it is sub-zero out there, not the bathing pants. I don't know where the playmobil gun is. Where? You don't put things up there! No, I told you last time. Get the vaseline. Sneeze. Again. Good. No, let me wash it. You hate me. At 3. Well, I don't know what you will think by 13. You'll probably explode. Who hit who first? You can't both have done it at the same time exactly. Right. Right. Off to bed now. NOW! No, we don't have red toothpaste. It's blue. Just BRUSH YOUR TEETH. I will read both of you the same story in separate rooms. I promise. Christ, this story sucks. Yes, I am still upstairs. Yes. Go to sleep. You've already had some water. Oh. Go and wee then. No, a tiny dribble does not constitute an entire outfit change. The Toy Story ones are in the wash. Yes, they are. No, you are wearing a bedtime nappy. You are. Go to sleep. Sleep.

glug, glug, glug. Ahhhhhh. Now, go back upstairs, and watch them sleeping. Go on. It's designed that they look cute, you refill your love tanks, and they can go on being 3 or whatever tommorrow. A survival tactic. for them and you. Sneak up now.
The picture shows son passed out on the Naughty Step. Sheer exhaustion. And daughter whacked out in the buggy.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Kids need quiet, and aloneness.

The value of quiet for children is something I have been pondering lately, and lo, in the Guardian the other day, Friday I think, Libby Brookes mentioned that there has been little research into thevlaue of being alone and quiet in children, as opposed to the mountains of research about kids and socialisation. Nobody ever talks about how, sometimes, kids like being quiet, and alone.

I've been thinking about it because son is due to go to school in Spetember next year, and I'm wondering how he will cope. He doesn't mind playgroup (3 mornings a week) but "It's very busy and I just like to be quiet sometimes". I fret about how he will do in a class of 30, full on, all day. I know him. He goes to his room / the garden/ the shed and just natters on to himself, making little bubbles of worlds and arranging things to his pleasure, if you poke you head in he says "not yet", he LIKES aloneness, it's his time to play with his imagination. He dislikes playgroup by the end of the week for the noise, the hustle, the "Now we will do painting". Often, on a Friday, he will say "Is it the weekend? Can I be quiet now?". i worry about how he will be in a big class. He does not speak up, not because he is shy, but because it overwhelms him. It is pointless to him. Waiting for a question to be answered in a room of 30, he may as well dream the answer himself. And it would be better.

Thinking of my own temperment and childhood, I was similar. I took myself off to the shed, to the swing, anywhere, and later, with a book. I disliked the enforced jollity of activities at playgroup, and later, school. Daughter, I worry less about. She does not fret. She smites. Go her. At toddler group, she merely said "I don't like it, they don't play properly, let's have a snack and go". She too, will happily go off and doodle away the while rearranging her dolls house into some sort of bordello with her brothers army men, or "reading" the books to make the endings better. For one, Cinderella gets a motorbike.

I think that the school day for a four year old must seem endless. I am told, often, that I should send mine to playgroup more, to ready them for school. What? They have 18 years of it! Let them while away the hours chasing chickens, building grass cutting dens. Let them go off to the bottom of the garden and transform the tree into a motorbike. A Kawasaki Ninja, to be precise. Let them lay on the (damp) grass for 30 minutes and come in and say "I saw a giant, but he was ok, but the clouds were mostly animals today". Playgroup does not do this. Nor does school. Children do this, alone, and themselves, because they are.

You know, i'm edging towards home schooling. More fun. More play. More time to be themselves. I know from experience that a lesson is that long because there are 30 kids there. one on one, I could teach it in 15 minutes. We could have a morning of school, and an afternoon of play, of being alone, of doing nothin, or judo, or swimming, but nothing is sometimes the best of all. Because when my kids are doing nothing, they are always doing something more imaginative and hilarious than I could have dreamed up.

Friday, 12 November 2010

What are the poppies for, Mum?

Son, 3, asked me this yesterday, as we walked past the memorial in my home village. It has flags flapping around the cross, in readiness for Sunday. Some of them are Polish, one is American (I live in the land of the airbase). A whole Scheme of Work flashed through my head, from the days when I was teaching the answer to this question to year 9 students. Them, I could stun into immediate submission by showing them, in lesson one, a full 20 minutes of pictures, film and reportage from the Front. That is why. But I can't show a 3 year old that. So what do I say?

That rememberance is about the people, not the war. So when we got home, the photo album came out and I showed him the pictures of my great grans' family, all of them lined up for a group shot. Then the pictures of her brothers, in Uniform, raring to go away,leave that life of shepherding and farm work, get a suit (a free one!) and see the foreign shores. Only one, of 7, came back, 2 boys in one battle. Leaving a depopulated village, women without husbands, brothers, fiancees, or any prospect of one. "They left to fight a war with another country" I said. "It wasn't their war, but they went to help, but they got killed".
Deflecting questions about how, exactly, (mud, guns, drowning, who knows? Only that it was at Mons, and Ypres). I used an analogy about how sometimes, if people are fighting, they sometimes ask for help. If you believe that the person needs help, you help them, and soldiers do it because it is their job. I didn't mention conscription. I mentioned how, when my nan died, we lit candles for her, to remember, and that poppies helped people to remember soldiers who have died. Who are brothers, and daddies. I didn't mention how some wars are not virtuous, how men died for little pay and no reason. I mentioned only that we should remember them, so we don't fight again. I didn't mention how it hasn't worked yet, but only that we should do it, in the hope that it does work.
I will take them to the ceremony on Sunday. They don't, thankfully, have anyone specific to remember in their living memory, as my Brother-in-law came out of Afghanistan alive. But they can think about my great grans brothers, who left a life of shepherding, and farming, and did not come back. And, as every year I taught it, I was moved by the sudden anger and disbelief of my year 9's, who usually didn't care about anything much more than their XBox, I hope that my two will grow up utterly indignant about the wars fought in our name and the losses they resulted in.

In my nans photo albums there are 6 photos of war graves, in France. They are my Great Grans brothers. She never made it to France, but my grandad went and took the photos for her. They are what she had, a known resting place. So many did not. In my pre-kids days, husband and I took our holidays in Belgium and France, trudging the cemetaries, walking the Menin ridge, marking the front lines as we went, noting the piles of shells French and Belgian farmers left by the roadside for collection, even now. The large cemetaries are too huge to contemplate, your eye is stunned by the mass of white rectangles. And then you realise that some rectangles name 2, 3 even more, and the walls behind note even more. Imagine them all standing. And then the next cemetary, and the next. Chinese workers are shoved to the side, Indian soldiers given side rooms. And still, still, many more lie lost and unidentified. Someones son, brother, lover, husband.

In Britain, we are privilged, in one way, not to have these markers on our landscape. But, we have no daily reminder of the loss. In Arnhem, husband and I spent a day walking the route of the Market Garden assault, eventually fetching up at the cemetary. All the way there, there are markers of which soldier held the front, which soldiers were valiant, but fell. It's pitted into the pavement, in metal. Schoolchildren are given dedicated graves to tend, and hold a yearly service of thanks. In France, schools have a gravesite each to tend and look after. It was fought on their soil, they see. We do not. We have the odd white rectangle sent home to country churchyards. We forget, and we should not.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Give your kid a camera, a real one.

I walk about with my camera all the time, it's my third eye. I sometimes think my own eyes see things through a square. For me, it's a way of seeing the little things that are beautiful or moving, seeing the small picture helps me to see the big one. When i've had a day of being moaned at ("NOT THOSE FISHFINGERS! The OTHER ONES!" "Oh, you mean the fish cakes." "I just cut a little bit of hair off!" Daughter sobbing, holding clump, says otherwise, you know the drill), and it's hard to see the wood for the screaming, I like to take a minute and look through a lens. So son and daughter are used to being snapped (although, if I get his "photo face" one more time I will scream), and son kept agitating for a camera. I looked at those big kiddy style ones that add cartoons and so on, but frankly, the picture quality is beyond dreadful. And why should kids have a "kid" version of everything? It's like saying "you are small and wouldn't be able to use a real one", when in fact, they can. Why should something have to be big and unbreakable, and have "fun" elements? Kids, given half the chance, will look after things that are delicate with care 95% of the time, and the other 5% of the time, they're just doing it on purpose. Why should a kid need "amusing" elements to a camera, when a camera is already fun enough, if the person looking through the lens is fun?

As I proved by digging out my old digital camera, an old kodak Easyshare model. It's small enough for his hands, it's a point and click, and away we went.He was careful, carrying it with the wrist strap. He took to it quickly. After asking "What should I photo, Mummy?" and receiving the reply "Anything that you think is beautiful, interesting, or silly! Anything you like!", we went for a walk. I now have snaps of the following, a window into the mind of a 3 year old boy. The tally is: 3 dead worm photos, 1 photo of dog poo, 4 trucks, 3 lamposts, 4 patches of nettles, 1 berberis berry, 1 of his sister (note she is less interesting than dead worms), 1 bike, 1 of a brick wall for "it is patterny", 1 of his new snowboots, and a staged shot of his sisters toy dog about to fall off a cliff. As well as being fun, and educational, it was really lovely to see him so engaged in his surroundings, and he has claimed the camera as his now. Interestingly, he clicked onto the zoom without being told, and preferred the viewfinder to liveshoot, so I am hopeful I may have a David Bailey who can support me in my old age.

So don't buy an expensive kid camera. Buy a real, cheap one, and let them click away. Look at life through your kids' lens.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

I wish there was grey hair dye.

I am going grey. What little hair I have, where it has grown in again, has grown in grey. I am salt and pepper. I have more grey than my mum. But it is not grey ENOUGH. I want more grey. Total grey. I don't want to dye what I have left to my natural brown. I daren't, in case it falls out more, for one, and also because, dammit, grey is what happens and I don't want to be dying it forever in an effort to look younger than my 38 years. Just as I accept my lack of hair and what is left of my boobs after feeding two kids, I want to accept grey. But I want it to hurry up. Half measures look rubbish. And grey can look cool. (Pus, my grey hair is thicker than my brown, and I need all the help I can get).

Grey is old. My great gran and my nan had fabulous pearly white hair. But grey can be young too. Women with autoimmune conditions, like myself, often go grey earlier. Regrown hair from hair loss is often grey. But where are the grey, younger women? Do they all dye? Do they all hide? I can only remember one example, a teacher at the school where I last worked, who had that steely grey hair you sometimes get, cut snappyand short, and my, it was hot. But, aside from Judy Dench and Helen Mirren, where are the women who are grey in media? And where are the young ones? Google grey hair and you get loads of stuff to cover it, prevent it, deal with the agony of it, but NOTHING about how to just go grey and say "stuff it". George Clooney can be grey and sexy, but Nicole Kidman goes out with a bit of grey showing and she gets slaughtered. Whole blogs about how dreadful she looks. Dreadful? She's NICOLE KIDMAN! Hello! What a slut, hey?
So, just like my trouble finding women with balding bits and bald heads, or really short hair (you may recall, Servalan from Blakes 7 was just about the only one I found....), now I am also another taboo on top of looking a bit like a lesbian. I'm an OLD looking one.

Oh, no wait, I just found this one of Jamie Lee Curtis. She looks great. Now all I have to do is get her body and i'll be fine. And for those who say, "Where's the political sniping this post?" I say to you: Alistair Darling. As long as my eyebrows go grey too.