Monday, 31 December 2012

Reflections and revolutions

"What was the best bit about this year, girls?" I asked them at lunch today.

"Cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuba!" shouted A, remembering our epic family holiday this year.

"What bit of Cuba did you like the best?" I continued.

"The cakes at breakfast," replied A.

"The cold swimming pool," chipped in P "Oh, and the ice cream!"

So my children's favourite memories of 2012 are of cakes and ice cream, they just happened to be on a tropical island. We got talking, reminiscing, and we all got feverishly excited recalling parts of that trip. The coco taxi's whizzing through the crumbling Havana streets, sneezing iguanas, swimming in waterfalls, buckets of hermit crabs, rowing boats at sunset and mojito's delicious and punchy - and do you remember that pelican Mummy, do you? One night the food was so bad at our hotel we skipped the dinner altogether and ate Pringles and drank rum, oh how we laughed remembering that moment. The kids obviously missed out on the rum part of the meal, but they do recall their parents giggling madly trying to catch the frogs in the room and talking to the night guards in practically fluent Spanish - we are talking a half a bottle of rum here.

I like New Year, in fact I love it. I love the feeling of thinking back on the old year with fondness, although 2012 had its fair share of tantrums and tears, and looking forward to the new. A whole 365 days stretching ahead of us, full of promise and excitement. A brand new start to try and right the wrongs, to add to the memories and widen the experiences.

"What are your new years resolutions, kids?" I queried once we had stopped giggling about Cuba.

"My revolution is to read more books!" said A.

"And my revolution is to play music!" added P.

And I have decided to be more jolly. Not so blue. Not so cross. A little less angry.

So the three of us are are going to cause a revolution in 2013, resolving to be jolly, book reading musicians. Look out world!

Happy New Year everyone.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Christmas food

I've just opened the fridge door to be greeted with jugs of jellied gravy, a bowl of congealed bread sauce, four day old goose-fatted roast potatoes and a bowl of cooked sprouts. Against all my better intentions, it was time to bin the Christmas leftovers, which goes against everything I have ever written about wasting food. The fridge was jammed with sliced ham and turkey - enough for another twelve roast dinners, I kid you not. We asked the butcher for a boned, rolled and stuffed turkey for 9 adults and 2 kids and this is what we got; 1 stone  and 2 oz of meat. A third of this would have sufficed and even that would've produced Boxing day sarnies. We have learnt our lesson, not being very proficient in hosting large roast dinners and all.

We have one gluteus maximus of stilton left to eat, two boxes of Sainsbury's deep filled mince pies, cold meats, packets of olives, 5 large bags of 2-for-1 revoltingly flavoured crisps and chutneys and pickles galore.  

The festive season is very good at putting me off food altogether, if I could just take a pill-full of all the nutrients I need from now until the allotment starts to flourish, then I would be happy.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas crackers

Christmas is crackers, so are Christmas crackers.

The Christmas crackers were a real stumbling block this year. We prepared and shopped and cooked and shopped, braving the supermarket twice by myself while the children threw up the norovirus at home. We shopped some more, and then a little bit more and then went out at the last minute to buy ginger ale just-in-case someone fancied a whiskey and ginger - they didn't. But the crackers were impossible to buy.

We had 11 for Christmas day - so do you go for the dirt cheap ones? (which look like, errr dirt cheap) - or do you buy a slightly more luxury version which have 'better quality' gifts. To be honest I wanted to skip the whole Christmas cracker thing altogether, it is 20 seconds of fun with a bunch of tat which litters the table afterwards, it goes against my thrifty nature. But there is something about Christmas which forces you to conform, you HAVE to have crackers at the dinner table.

I crumbled and bought some mini pink ones which were laughed out the house, so I had to go and buy some more - a red and gold variety in much better keeping with the Christmas theme. And of course they were all left strewn over the table afterwards.

Golf tees anyone? Mini screw diver set? Come on .....somebody must want the tiny plastic photo frame?

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Winter garden

I've just been out in our tiny but perfectly formed garden, to feed the birds. They seem to appreciate it at this time of year and I like seeing them from my window. The only other time I tramp up the garden path in Winter is to get the logs in from the shed or to empty the compost peelings into the conical shaped bin. It's so cold and miserable that the worms have all migrated to the centre of the mulch, huddled to keep warm I expect. The perennials are dead and rotten, the greenness of the lawn is mainly moss and I never did get to the garden centre to buy tulips this year, so no colourful Spring display for us.

I see Winter as a chore, something that has to be done, like the house work or filling in your tax return. I see it as a long drawn out affair, like a marathon with Christmas being the half way post but the worst and hardest part left to run. The upside is that the shortest day is nearly upon us, giving us three minutes more light in our day, every day, until the glorious Summer has arrived.

Every Summer I stand bare-footed in my tiny, but perfectly formed garden and breathe in the hums, the stillness, the colour and warmth on the soles of my feet - wishing it could always be like this but understanding there is no yin without yang.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Christmassy sort of weekend

It's been nothing short of magical this weekend, full of Christmas and surprises. A sort of antithesis to a previous post about not being very keen on Christmas at all.

A Christmas tree was purchased at Catsfield Christmas tree farm where we took our time choosing the loveliest tree. I've never really looked critically at Chritmas trees before, but because he was with me I got to appreciate the pros and cons of various heights, shapes and types of trees. Ours is almost prefect; for perfect doesn't and shouldn't exist in nature. It is a long, thin, triangular tree, exactly the sort you would draw if you were five years old. It looks as though it should have real candles alight at regular intervals on the outside branches, instead of LED lights and a ton of dangly things. And on the way home, all squashed in the car with a child illegally on my lap (the Christmas tree took up most of the space) we discovered the dearest little farm shop - with fudge and carols and huge field mushrooms and a deli of jars so tempting.

In the afternoon I had a reunion of an antenatal class with six beautiful bouncing babies all dressed as snowmen, Santa, gnomes and elves. Adorable; even melted my hardened Scroogy heart.

Today we visited Hastings, my favourite town in the UK I think. A secret slowly being discovered full of junk shops, fish and chips, arty cafĂ©'s with waitresses with ever-so-slightly short bang fringes and crockery that's doesn't  and isn't supposed to match. The sea was roaring and the lights of the arcade alight and garish against the grey afternoon, with no one playing their beckoning games.

And then we visited Alistair Hendy's Christmas house. A Tudor house fully restored with detail so exquisite and enchanting. Large tin baths, hidden beds in the walls, log fires in every room and the smell of spiced wine wafting from the basement kitchen. Traditional Christmas decorations of gingerbread and pretzels tastefully adorned the dressers and tables.

Tonight I decided it was time to unpack all the presents and see what I have left to do - the answer is nothing! All the little bits and bobs collected throughout the year from vintage finds to Indian trash, from homemade chutney to ....well I better not say any more as I'll give the game away.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Giving confidence

It's nearly the end of term and I'm not sure who needs it most - me or the children?

P has bags under her eyes dark and fluid filled, she needs more sleep and down time. She is not 5 until July and full time school is taking its toll. Sometimes after school I can see a tantrum brewing as I collect her from the school gates, she's kept her anger, frustration and bad behaviour (in the schools eyes) inside her - until she sees me, and then it all comes flooding out . One big stress particle. Melt. Down. On those days its a rush to get her seated on the sofa, choccie biccie in hand and a dose of Cbeebies to unfrazzle her poor little 4 year old brain. Emergency TV watching we call it. It works, she can speak to me civilly again after a some Mister Maker and a glucose intake. The last thing she needs is me shouting at her bad behaviour after a school day of being shouted at. So I nurture her, hug her through her tantrums, give in to her odd clothing requests and let her take charge for a while. She really needs this after a day of being told what to do.

A, darling A. My sensitive little bean. Now the easy thing to do would be to forget all about school for the holidays as though it doesn't exist, give her a break from the Maths and the spellings. But there are hundreds of ways I can incorporate learning into her days without it being a painful experience. A home-schooling friend of mine was asked if she stops teaching during the Christmas break - absolutely not she said, Christmas is full of learning and those who ask the question do not understand what learning is. We will cook, and measure, write Thank You cards (just in case presents are received), we will sing songs, learn other languages, read folk tales and stories, we will count, lay tables, do crafts and write menus. And many other lovely activities too, together, with praise and nurturing and without a boring school book or work sheet in sight.

All I would like for Christmas is for my children to be happy to learn, to take this wonderful world and to grab it, squeezing out all the joy and fascinating facets that are there for them to feel inspired.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


How do you instil confidence in a 6 year old girl? That's a genuine question, answers in the comment box below please.

A is a happy, content, smiley little girl. She is generous, kind and genuine. She asks after others, is polite and has maternal tendencies. But she doesn't believe she is good at anything. In fact she thinks the opposite, that she is the worst. Maths is her main problem, I can't even talk about it without her crying. Mentioning maths homework causes such panicked and angry outbursts - so unlike her. She doesn't want to read, although she can. She says she has the fewest house points in her class and when she got one spelling wrong in her spelling test, she couldn't be consoled for over an hour. Poor A.

Do you think there is too much pressure in schools for some types of children, all this testing and homework and work sheets?

Or does this 'competition' set them up for the 'real world?'

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

I'm just not that keen on Christmas

I don't like Christmas very much. That's like swearing at small children really, in most peoples eyes. But really, I am not keen on Christmas and look forward to January 2nd each festive season when I can start the year afresh, with gusto and enthusiasm. Look, I'm not a Scrooge, I join in, I do all I'm supposed to - and I expect that's where the problem lies. Most of us do Christmas because that's what we do. We all eat practically the same stodgy, excessive food and then moan about it in January, we all drink too much and then moan about it in January, the children receive too many gifts and say they are bored in January, we all feel stressed about family/money/the perfect day - and then say we never doing that again, in January.

Two Christmas's stand out to me in my life, all the other 37 are one mass of mince pies and turkey, indistinguishable from each other. One year my Mum and her friend rented a little cottage on Dartmoor, freezing cold and old as the moors themselves. I can't even remember if we had a tree. I do remember waking up on Christmas morn to frozen patterns on the inside of the windows and opening a few pressies in -10C in the lounge. So Mum and her friend said lets go for a walk to warm up. There is this odd little hobby of letter boxing on Dartmoor, where you hunt for hidden boxes containing a rubber stamp and a notebook to write your names in. It was so much fun and kept us happily walking the moors for what seemed like hours, wanting to collect as many rubber stamps as possible. And then if my memory serves me, we had a drink in a pub, by a fire and it was cosy. And then we came back to the cold cottage, fed the electricity meter with pound coins and all had baked potatoes and mushy peas for Christmas dinner - there was an option of baked beans for those who didn't partake in the peas.

The other Christmas which stands out for me was one spent in The Gambia, West Africa. It's a Muslim country predominantly. On Christmas Eve we all got absolutely wasted on warm Guinness to the sound of cicadas and croaking toads. I was staying on a boat that Christmas and woke up with dried dribble on my chin and sweating profusely as the sun beamed through the sky light. I was so hungover on Christmas day I couldn't eat and spent most of it swinging in a hammock between the masts of the yacht. And then I went back to bed and it was all over for another year.

Sunday, 9 December 2012


This weekend has mostly been spent tying to keep warm, sewing little Christmas tree decorations, writing Christmas card lists and trying to stay focussed in the now - without dreaming of ponies, plains and polo.

You can't say the word 'polo' without it sounding posh. It's not a sport many people have had anything to do with, it's exclusive and sponsored by the champagne Veuve Clicquot, worldwide. The game has connotations of royalty, of the fashion elite, macho Argentinian players and of money unknown and bewildering to most.

I went to play polo in Nairobi. My friend E has become addicted and now owns four beautiful ponies - they are actually ex race horses and not ponies at all, but that's what one calls them, darling. Well, I attempted to hit a ball at walk and trot without falling off, trying to control the pony in one hand with a tangle of tack, bits and reins foreign to me. After an hour of 'stick and balling', the pony as light and controllable as a joystick - I was hooked. Polo is seriously fun, utterly terrifying and so prohibitively elite that I tried not to like it too much.

Watching chukkas as I sat on the pony lines was fascinating. It was difficult to take in the speed and aggression of the game as well as the extraordinary people who play it. It was like a secret society that I was allowed a quick peek at, it was so thrilling to be part of it for just a moment.

These bonkers experiences keep you going when packing sandwiches, washing uniforms, arguing over homework, cooking supper and trying to keep the family sane and happy. It is hard to imagine that somewhere in Africa people gallop around on ponies for fun, whack balls into each other, drink champagne at sun down and spend all their money doing it.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Journey into the unknown

The asphalt road came to an end at the police barrier, the large metal spikes placed across the road stopped us in our tracks. The road police sauntered over to us mzungus and lazily waved us through, slowly drawing back the spikes in the road, manually. We asked where the Chyulu Hills were and they waved us in a non-committal type of direction. So off road we went, consulting the map regularly. Turn by the oil drum, past the the fork in the road. What oil drum? Which fork? There were no signs at all, so we just drove to what looked like hills. And that is where the adventure began.

Less than five minutes into the bush we ran into an ostrich.

And then we nearly drove over a giraffe.

At which point we were laughing so hard we could barely breathe. You know that hysterical laughter between friends? We nearly drove over a giraffe. How very absurd.

The zebra were next, alongside some skittish wildebeest, a few impala hid in the long grassy plains. Or perhaps they were Thompson's gazelle. The wildlife was prolific and all around us. We even got out of the car to photograph a dung beetle, nervously giggling and looking over our shoulders for lurking lions.

We drove on like this, having our own private safari for a couple of hours, getting no closer to any hills. Maasai warriors and small boys guarding their thin framed cattle waved curiously as we drove past, some smiled but most did not. A large Land Rover coming the other way waved us down, it was full of men in green uniforms with big guns and large holes in their ears.

"Where are you going?" the driver asked.

I wound down the window and nervously replied. All the men laughed. We were heading in completely the wrong direction.

"Follow us," he said, smiling. His eyes were kind so we followed. But his gun was big.

I was nervous. I thought about my children. Of him. E was silent. We followed the Land Rover into the bush, there were no tracks or roads. The vehicle came to a stop and all the men got out. We slowed down as well.

"Dead giraffe!" they exclaimed. 

E and I were beckoned to admire the huge beast, with a slice of meat big enough to feed a large family taken from its rump. We took photo's, we laughed with the men, the driver insisted his Man United shirt was seen and then they waved us on our way. Turn left at the acacia, by the rocks, look for some zebra...and off we went, to continue to get lost. 

As Greg Anderson quotes:

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


I'm home.

I arrived safely and have slotted into the routine as if nothing at all has happened. But so much has happened, and I really don't know where to start. Memories are made a nano second after the event and when you don't photograph every moment or video great chunks of your time, then memories are so very important. But they fade. So that is why I am going to write in great detail about my African adventures- so I can retrace my steps when feeling blue and realise how extremely lucky I am for having visited this amazing continent; not once, but twice. I don't think it will be the last time either.

My ankles were swollen from the enduring flight, I sat on my luggage containing Africa tat and filthy clothes as yet another passenger squeezed onto the Tube. I could smell the man's hangover next to me, a tall proud black lady with interesting hair was stepping on my toes, most people played with their phones or listened to the white lines in their ears. It was hard to imagine that only yesterday I was in Africa, so I closed my eyes and dreamed.

We spent days cantering across the plains below the Chyulu Hills, avoiding the great holes dug by the jackals or warthogs, letting our horses find their way as they were so much more experienced than us, trusting their knowledge of the land. We would slow to a walk, giraffes peering at us as we approached, seemingly unbothered by their distant cousins but a little more curious at the riders with their giggling noises and clicking cameras. Sweat would be pouring down the side of our faces, hard hats a must on these feisty horses and our muscles screaming in pain - but on we rode. The landscape changed quickly; from the thick scrub of the whistling acacias to the plains dotted with impala and zebra.

Just when you thought you couldn't go on a Land rover appeared in the distance, containing all the ingredients for a large Gin and Tonic, for it was time to appreciate the sun and its demise. Every muscle wobbled and shook as we dismounted our steeds, the tears started trickling down my cheeks at the beauty and wonder of it all.

Quickly wiped away, as you needed to be tough to survive this place.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A postcard home

Dear him, A and P,

I am having an incredible time in Africa, the cicadas are screaming as I write and the sun is about to set, meaning it's time for a G & T - to fully appreciate the end of another beautiful day. We are exhausted from hours of riding horses through the bush, bumping into elephants and gadding about with giraffes. I have been moved to tears regularly and so want to show you Africa. I am sure you would all love her as I do, A you would adore the real life Flumpies and P, you would giggle with the Maasai and marvel in their jumping. Miss you all,
lots of love,
mum xxx

Thursday, 22 November 2012

I'm outta here

"I'm going to miss you A," I said as we drove to pick P up from school. She is still a bit poorly.

Long silence where I hoped the sentiment would be reciprocated. I eventually caved.

"Are you going to miss me?" I spoke tentatively.

"Er....No!" A replied.

"Oh that's good, that's good," I mumbled just a teeny weeny bit surprised with the answer, but also pleased that she is so relaxed about me going away for 10 day, yes 10 days. TEN DAYS.

As they sat in front of Cbeebies I cooked, cleaned, prepared, packed, wrote long lists of the incredibly complicated lives of the children - for him. I sorted their advent calenders out, cleaned out the fish, paid the gas bill, put the last load of washing on, showered and de-fuzzed, packed, checked my passport, ticket, passport, ticket, passport....

For tomorrow I return to Africa. To Nairobi to see E, my lovely friend from university. E moved to Africa to play polo, and work, but mainly for polo. So I am going to visit her to play polo too, and drink G & T's and catch up on lost time and probably giggle about times past. I can't frigging wait except it's not as easy as I thought it would be.

I'm going to Africa, that's a very long way from my little chickens and him. It's full of scary animals and crazy politics. I might catch a disease or get mugged. God, these things never used to bother me but fear has entered my life as I gallop towards 40, but probably mainly because I have a family now. I want to stay safe for them. I need to stay safe.

At the dinner table, as I cajoled P into eating, I asked, "Are you going to miss me?"

"NO!" came the very definite answer.

Right then, I will stop all this silly worrying and jolly well go and have the time of my life.

Are you ready E? Are you ready?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Being tested

A has only eaten a spoonful of custard in 3 days. I have never felt a hotter human ever, she is like a furnace. Her ear is painful and her stomach is in spasms, with frequent liquid trips to the toilet. She is really very unwell and we have had to wait 36 hours for a doctors appointment. I have had to cancel all my jobs for the last 3 days, most of them unimportant some of them essential.

It is three sleeps until I get on an aeroplane to Nairobi. I feel like I am being tested right up until the last minute. Of course I want A to get better as she looks and feels awful, she's crying a lot and is so pale, but I also would like her to get better so I can go away with peace of mind and not be racked with mothers guilt.

I've also got a queasy feeling in my stomach. A sort of swirly, whirly feeling which is a bit bubbly. Please don't let me be sick. Please don't let me be sick. Please don't let me be sick. I don't think I can stand the waiting.

When we went to Cuba earlier this year we had similar pre-holiday panic. Another situation of will we? -  won't we? get on that plane. The trip which we had saved like crazy for, which we had looked forward to for 5 years, which cost far too much money, which we sacrificed for...

In February, just when we were about to depart the UK for an experience like no other, it snowed. Lots of snow. All flights were cancelled from Heathrow, but then the snow cleared about a day before we flew. And then the bloody French staff for Air France went on strike. Bloody striking French. The plane before us was cancelled, the plane after us was cancelled, but by some small miracle ours took off to Havana and we landed relieved - not caring less how we got home.

Monday, 19 November 2012


I need the outdoors, a lot. I have been inside for two days now, nursing a poorly child and I feel claustrophobic, dry from the indoor heat, a bit foetid and unclean. The sun has come up today, bright neon and as round as a lollipop, promising to thaw the light ground frost and provide a day to be happy about. I'm itching to get out there, to ride a horse and feel the sharp wind across my face, or plant the tulips which are still un-bought at the garden centre or go for a stroll to the garlic woods looking out for animal tracks and holly berries.

Sometimes just getting the logs in from the shed is enough to satisfy the outdoors urge. Walking up our tiny garden when its dimpsey, or even dark, the dusk is alive with noises and the air chilled, which feels pure, making me want to take great lung-fulls.

I am going to get close to big nature next week, I can hardly believe it. I almost don't want the experience to arrive as the anticipation is so thrilling. Off to Kenya to see a great friend, to ride with the giraffes, to feel small against the rawness of Africa and her wildness, and her majestic mountains.

I like Lord Byron's words a lot:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Just one

A is off sick today. She's kind of sick and kind of not, she keeps sleeping, coughing, looks pale and wan. She didn't want to go to school which is very unusual for her so we hung out together and watched David Attenborough on the ipad. We saw male frogs giving birth to their young through their mouth and learnt that olms are as old as the dinosaurs and have no eyes at all. It's been an educational sort of morning for us both.


An olm

A is curled up on the sofa having her third sleep of the day after refusing even to eat chocolate, it got me thinking what it would be like to only have one child as I stroked her hair and hot forehead. I am not at all saying I would like just one child - but I can imagine how very different life would be, a more intense relationship perhaps. I often think what it would be like to have three children and even four, or what it would be like to have boys instead of girls, or a mixture of both.

I have loved being with A all alone today, not Love Bombing but spending quality time, talking and answering some very good questions of hers. When it's just one, I feel like I get to know my daughter better; her personality, her knowledge and what gives her a buzz - even when she is ill.

Today has just reminded me again of how important it is to spend time with one child at a time and how much we both get out of it. Get well soon A, but thank you for being poorly today.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

"Hurry up - we're late!"

Picture this. Every single school-day morning the kids are up at 6.30am bugging him in the bathroom and playing Jessie J on repeat. I get up later, after sifting through Twitter, maybe a peruse through Facebook, definitely checking my emails and maybe even answering a few. We might have a dance around the lounge, shake our bums to an African rhythm or act all bad-ass to some rap. The children get dressed independently,  I give them breakfast, make a strong coffee, contemplate the day and then suddenly it's eight bloody fifteen.

"Eat your breakfast, P for goodness sake how many times, put your food in your mouth and CHEW!"

"Hurry up, stop fiddling A, concentrate, go and clean your teeth. NOW!"

"We're late, oh my giddy god, we're late again, HURRY UP, for goodness sake P, get your coat on, please hurry up c'mon, c'mon,  c'mon..."

My poor children, every single day they have nice fun Mummy who then turns into a tyrant, shouting like a banshee, flying though the house like a whirling dervish and muttering profanities probably just a little bit too loud.

"Why don't you just get up 5 minutes earlier?" said A to me the other day, bursting into song.

You see, we used to see the same man, every day, when we dropped him off at the station early in the morning, running really fast for the train. We called him 'running man' and we squealed with delight watching him frantically paying for his parking, struggling to putting on his suit jacket, locking his car and pegging it to the platform. So we made a song up about him, and sang it very loudly when we saw him. I'm sure he heard us sometimes. It goes like this and must be sung to the tune of Phoebe from Friends singing 'Smelly Cat':

Running man! Running man!
You're late again
Running man! Running man!
You're gonna miss your train
Just get up five minutes earlier
Then you wont miss your train
Running man! Running man!
You're late again

Every day he could have saved himself this stress and just got up 5 minutes earlier. Maybe I should do the same.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Into the wild

Have you seen this film? Into the Wild?


It's long and sometimes indulgent, but I can't get it out of my head. We came late to it, being filmed in 2007, but I guess having babies puts pay to cinema trips and living in the countryside makes that virtually impossible. But I'm so glad we found it.

Although fidgeting through the two and a half hours of pretty much dialogue-free cinematography got me sighing and occasionally checking my watch, there were some truly soul searching moments. I'm not particularly looking for myself, I tried that once in India and found myself right there looking back at me. But the part of the film where the protagonist claims that the joy of life comes with new experiences got me shouting "YES! That's right! I've always said that, bugger your flat screen TV and labelled clothes, go down the beach in the winter, in the rain and feel the world."

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

— Chris McCandless

I'm off to Africa in 10 days time. All by myself. With many new stories to tell on my return, I hope.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Don't tell me what to do

When I am old I shall not wear purple, like the poem, but be a woman in her 70's still wearing jeans, slogan tee-shirts and maybe a jaunty hat. I will, however, be less and less inclined to conform, to act like everyone else and I will NOT be told what to do.

The older I get (and goddamn it - I am cracking on now) the easier I seem to be wound up. The more cross I get at injustice, at process and protocol, at politics, at religion, at hierarchy and authority. Don't tell me what to do, unless it is for a very good reason and that there is plenty of evidence to back up why I need to do what you want me to do.

I am not inherently a rebel - more like a goody-two shoes and a swot in my younger years, so this bucking the trend, shouting against the system and daring to stand out doesn't come easy to me. But the older I become, the more irate and furious I feel, that it's actually hard to keep my mouth shut. I am that outspoken old lady who everyone rolls their eyes at and thinks "what's she banging on about now....?"

I get cross at my kids being told what to do. I leave them in the school playground full of barking orders. Be quiet. Stand in line. Do your exercises. Sit on the carpet. Cross your legs. Wear a uniform. Walk, don't run. Put your hand up. Be quiet. Do your maths. Be quiet. You'll go on the red. I SAID BE QUIET.

And when we had a homework meeting last week in school - so that we would be better equipped to help our children with phonemes, graphemes and split diagraphs (I know - look it up, what a nightmare), we all just nodded and did as we were told. Do this, do that and your child will read and spell miraculously. Really? WHY?

And no one could answer that. So I'm not going to do it.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Forgive me

It has been seven days since my last blog post.

You see I haven't had the Internet for seven days now and I am not enjoying going cold turkey from technology one little bit. I have not embraced living how we used to, reading books, calling directory enquiries or winging it to see if the library is open on a Wednesday - it's not.

I have missed this blog more than not being able to check my email, I've missed the blog more than twitter and Facebook combined, I have missed this blog more than all the other websites I regularly look at - even more than BBC weather.

I am sitting in a tiny cafe in Sussex, all cute with cupcakes, condensation and old ladies discussing their weekly nursing home quiz. No one wants to be with Elsie, who has dementia, not the obvious choice for a quiz team mate. How sad.

The WIFI is dodgey, the bacon has just fallen out of my baguette on to my lap, it will be a bloody miracle if this blog post gets published. Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck.

Forgive me bloggers for I have no Internet. It has been seven days since my last blog post.

Friday, 2 November 2012


I'm going home today. Back to Sussex.

I've been at my mum's house all week having wonderful half-term adventures in the South West, with Granny and her dog. Although when I am in Sussex I talk of going 'home' as in coming home to Somerset. You see, I am one of the lucky few at the age of nearly 40, who still has her childhood home. My mum has lived in the same bungalow at the end of the track for over 38 years. The memories are strong and are all over the house and garden.

I help myself to coffee that has been in that cupboard for all my coffee-drinking life, the cheese biscuits still inhabit an old ice cream container from the 70's, the shower dribbles the same stream of water that got me ready for a night out in my teenage years and the swing stays still, rotten and hanging from the apple tree.

It's a privilege to be able to show my own children where I galloped my pony on the common and fell off every time he bent his head violently, to eat grass. I show them where I picked blackberries, where we played '1,2,3 in' and where my rabbit used to live. We take them to my childhood beaches and recreate games I used to play. It's evocative stuff.

As I travel to Sussex on the M25 today I will wonder if I am really going home, or if I am returning to a place where I am choosing to bring up my own family. And hopefully making beautiful childhood memories to boot.

Mum's garden in the summer

Monday, 29 October 2012

The dark side

It is precisely at this moment that I consider it winter. The clocks have done their thing, central heating is on a timer, logs have been ordered for the wood burner and our wardrobes have jumpers at the top and flip flops chucked untidily to the back - where they will stay for what seems a very long time. We have moved over to the dark side. The garden is soggy. The new spring bulbs lay dry in their packets, unopened, and I am struggling to get the motivation to work the cold sodden earth so as to enjoy a colourful display come March. It's hard to imagine that spring will ever be upon us again.

I hate the winter. I know that's a strong statement, but really, I do. And it feels especially cruel this year due to our useless excuse for a summer. The seasons are blurring.

One year we avoided the dark side completely. Before children and careers, he and I moved to Spain. Possibly for a month, maybe indefinitely -  we stayed for over a year. We decided on Seville in the south, a beautiful, conservative city known for its excellent tapas, wonderful ferias, the best Semana Santa (Easter) full of tradition, wonder and pretty much sun year-round. We arrived in November with a rucksack and a phrase book, straight off the bus and into a hustling, bustling tapas bar - running to avoid the downpour. It seemed we couldn't escape the weather completely. Inside the condensation ran down the windows, most people standing, around barrels or along the long bar, ordering small plates of local delicacies washed down with respectable sized glasses of wine and wee halves of beer.

After that first night, I only remember sun. Hot sun, medium sun, really bloody freezing cold - but sun. It was the brightness that kept us happy for over a year, everyday you could sit outside and 'tomar algo' (take something to eat or drink), everyday was a sunglasses day and a people watching day, we were on the beach in March and we left it in October.

A much more civilised way of being.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Dressing up

I have just sent the Cat in the Hat and Katie Morag to school. When they arrived in the playground who should be there but Harry Potter ( x5), Winnie the Witch, Jeremy Fisher, Ben 10, Pippy Longstocking and even a fantastic Fantastic Mr Fox. Today was dress-as your-favourite-book-character day and the children loved it.

What is it about dressing up? Kids adore it, a chance to be make-believe and especially at our house, we have a fairly good selection of tails, ears, wands, fire fighter jackets, tutu's, sparkly shoes and masks. When a child comes for tea they are down to their pants within seconds and the whole dressing up box is strewn all over the bedroom floor.

Adults love it too, look at Pirate day in July where 15, 000 pirates descended on Hastings.Young, old and even animal pirates all took the role very seriously arrrrrring as often as they could get away with. And you should have seen the 5000 zombies in Brighton, hilarious and utterly terrifying, creative and incredible. A predictably hid herself in my coat peeping through occasionally and had nightmares that night, while P squealed with delight and horror, the more gory the better.

This month we have two occasions to be someone else. A 'historical figures' 40th party - I cant tell you who he is going as, other than to say it is quite brilliant, but who am I?

....and I am considering releasing my inner tart and going as Adriana for a Soprano's dinner party.


With Halloween around the corner, the shops are busy selling face paints, cobwebs, fake blood and the supermarkets encouraging BOGOF on the pumpkins - love it or hate it, the USA has sent us their big tradition of getting dressed up for Halloween. 

Bring it on we say in our house.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

I fell off

OK it wasn't quite as dramatic as this...but it bloody felt like it.

I ride other peoples horses for them, when they are too busy or they can't because they broke a wrist from falling off a horse. It's totally mental this addiction to horses, their crazy and unpredictable ways are not something most people are attracted to. But the ones who do like horses say it is like a disease, it doesn't leave you - it's in your blood.

So I got bucked off today. I sat the first one quite well although I was a little dislodged. She was spooked by all the noise and tractors working next to the sand school and the mare I was on leapt in the air, kicked her back legs out and on the third and final buck I hit the ground. There is this moment when you know you are going to fall off and it feels like you are in slow-motion before the thud of the ribs on hard wet sand, and a clonk of the riding hat that you are so very grateful for. 

So what did I do? Got straight back on of course!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Ode to the Astra

We got a new car last week. I am very unbothered by cars, as long as they work then that's all I'm after. Our Vauxhall Astra 1.6, a 16 valve variety, finally decided not to work any more. Well it did work but occasionally bunny-hopped down the road, emitted thick black smoke when you started it, drank 5 litres of oil a week and passed out when it felt like it, but it still worked. I had to admit defeat though, when the garage told me how much it was going to cost to fix it. One of it's 16 fabulous valves had gone, broken, and it was more than the car was worth to mend.

So we bought a new Astra, exactly the same make, model and colour even. I know where I am with an Astra, safe, reliable, very un-sexy and plenty of room to shove allotment gear and riding boots, tents, cat baskets and suitcases.

On Friday I went to pick up the new Astra in all its shining and valeted glory, leaving the old one behind. And as it sat in the garage forecourt, me betraying it with a younger model, I felt a little lump in the back of my throat. Oh Astra, we had been together for over 8 years, all that we shared played out in my mind on the way home - as I heaved from the new-car smell and screamed at the kids not to make a mess.

Astra, you lived with us in London and took me shopping every week to the supermarket, that was about it in those days, occasionally having a spin down the M4 to see my mum. I scratched you good and proper in the first week of owning you, bought the paint to cover the marks but never got round to it. You brought A home from hospital, I sat in the back tense and worried at the wobbliness of her little newborn head. You took us to France, twice, loaded to the max, happy to travel on the other side of the road. You have been stuck in the mud at festivals, blew your radiator in the snow but still got us home safely, you popped a tyre twice, failed to start a number of times on cold frosty mornings. Remember that time when you killed a deer and I had to remove its tail from the air conditioning unit?

You put up with his incessant house music, the children's mess and crumbs, my shit-strewn boots and even managed to hit 90 when we were in a rush to get home. I never treated you to a wax and a polish, but that didn't mean we didn't love you.

I hope you don't get crushed straight away, 120 000 miles is no age for a car.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


I have this ring, it is large with a dark red stone and made out of sterling silver. You know, the sort you might buy down Camden Market for a fiver. I didn't get it from a market however, I bought it in India 13 years ago, from a couple selling their wares on the side of the road near Manali. I liked it, I didn't love it, and after the trip where I was hoping to find myself - I didn't - the ring was designated to the drawer and lived a life among trinkets and beads from far corners of the earth. They must have had plenty to talk about.

About a year ago I was rifling through old jewellery bits, ankle chains and belly chains, beads home-made from Fimo, tarnished silver and tangled necklaces, when I came across my large red ring. I put it on my middle finger, next to my wedding band, and there it stayed. I didn't like it any more than before, I didn't love it, it didn't remind me of India but there it stayed. Too big to ride horses in, too cumbersome to garden in and enormous to swim in - but it survived all three pursuits.

I had a few comments on the ring, mostly from hippy types. Only a few weeks ago someone told me it was a  so-and-so stone (sorry, I really can't remember) and it was the stone you wear when you need grounding. I looked at the ring and thought, "Ha, well there you go, may be I needed grounding this last year."

And then a few nights ago it fell off, just like that, while I was eating a bowl of pasta. My 13 year old ring decided to un-ground me. And now I'm all a jitter.

So if my ring is not going to keep me grounded from now on then I guess I'd better do it myself - but I'm tempted to get it mended, just in case.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Here comes the sun

Celebrating sunrise - George Harrison on repeat as we watch the dawning of a very beautiful day in Sussex.

Sussex sunrise

Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been here
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Love bombing

I did some love bombing today - and it was really fun. You should give it a go. A responded amazingly and I can't wait to do it again.

I'd read about 'love bombing' a while back in The Guardian and thought it a really interesting concept. The idea of showering your child with love, allowing them to sleep with you, saying 'yes' as much as you can and letting them decide what you do, is an initially odd concept to deal with children that are playing up at home.

Yesterday A had an almighty meltdown. Yes, she was tired. Yes, she was grumpy. But as she sobbed to herself in bed there was a searching look in her eyes, it almost said "I didn't mean to do that, I didn't mean to hit P, I didn't mean to squeal and shout and moan at every request." She genuinely couldn't help it.

I thought I'd try the 'love bombing' condensed style today. Oliver James suggests that with children that are disrespectful, sometimes violent to their siblings and need constant nagging that you could do the following:

1. Take the child away from the rest of the family for a weekend, two nights.

2. Tell the child repeatedly that you love them, making sure to hug them and look them in the eyes for long periods.

3. Sleep with them in your bed at nights, during the day tell them that this is their special time and that you will do whatever they want.

4. On return to normal life, create a 30 minute slot each evening with a label they have chosen, like 'mummy time', in which you repeat the same formula in condensed form.

We set aside 2 hours of special time in which A chose what we did. She chose what we ate and how long we spent there. I, in turn, did not look at my phone once. I tried to say 'yes' as much as possible and listened to what she was saying. I noticed that she is silent and brooding and day-dreaming for a lot of the time. I asked her what she was thinking and how she was feeling. I didn't nag, or boss or shout. I noticed that she is quite a fiddler and a fidget. She is always using her hands for something, makes a huge mess with her food and not because she is naughty, but because she is day-dreaming and fiddling as she eats.

I learnt about my lovely A today. I learnt about myself as well. I too am distracted by my everyday life and perhaps don't fully interact and listen to her as I should.

Love bombing has done us the world of good. A hugged me completely off her own back today, she never does that, usually turning a cheek as I kiss her goodnight.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Protecting my young

A is a sweet girl, you know that, I've told you often enough. She is kind and sensitive, she thinks about others feelings and she is maternal and caring. I'm sure she is not like this all the time, I grant you, but this is the A I almost always see. So when other children are being mean to her at school it switches on my very primal instinct to protect her. She in turn protects me, by not letting me know what goes on. She would rather keep things to herself  than see me turn into a wild animal who would like to maim the attacker. Fair play, it's not nice seeing your mum upset.

We've had an ongoing situation with her friendships, mainly A being walked all over and made to feel bad when she can't dance like the others or do a maths problem straight away. I find out from other mothers that A is having a hard time. It makes me feel so sick with anger that I have to restrain myself. But I can't fight my little girl's battles, she has to learn to stick up for herself, to be strong and walk away, to form new friendships, to not tell the teacher over the smallest issue and to know when girly meanness is downright bullying. That's a tough call for a 6 year old. It's a tough call for a parent as well.

I would like to take her under my wing and protect her from this bitchy and horrible place. I would like to shield her from the meanies and the show-offs and the queen bee's. I would like her to be able to share her woes and for us to talk about a sensible solution - but then that would be me telling her what to do. I don't want to do that. I want her to work it out for herself, to learn from mistakes and to realise that others may not be as kind hearted as herself.

I want her to always know that I am here for her to take shelter, to love and protect her and that I will try  to send her out as a confident young girl who will be able to cope with the next battle life throws at her.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Sunday nights and grey Monday mornings

The weekend is over. I slept easy knowing that the children had one decent meal yesterday, they had clean sheets, washed and conditioned hair, packed lunch boxes, swimming kit sorted and homework completed. The Sunday night ordeal was over before the hideousness that is Monday morning.

Monday greeted me with the cat who pee'd out of it's litter tray - on purpose. P has not stopped whining over important issues like blobs at the end of her tights, slippers whose velcro doesn't work and I'm already tired from her waking me up three times because her bed was messy. It wasn't. A has this cough which is small and dry and constant. And irritating. Oh Monday mornings, it's not your fault, or the children's - it is mine.

Looking out of the window, across the patchwork-quilt fields and rolling hills I have taken a moment to lose myself in nature - from the relative warmth of the indoors. A slice of bright neon sun emerged in between the heavy clouds. A gaggle of geese flew across my path, necks out-stretched keen to arrive at their destination. The borage is still a vivid blue, providing a splash of colour in an otherwise weedy garden. For a moment I forgot about the jobs, the mundane and the routine.

Thank you world for waking up today, and for me and my children waking up too. I am going to seize you Monday-morning and squeeze all the joy out of you, because I know you have some - somewhere.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Poem to Arabella

Child of light
skipping down the eggshell path
of your butterfly years

yellow tendrils
skying wild behind you
swept back by your delight

a flower about to open
about to gladden the world
petal by milky petal

gather me a daisy chain
made from your joy
to wear in my winter

when the glow of now
pales to the far scent
of fragile frost

Arabella of the marigold ways
running across deep October fields
drowning me in pollen

of your madcap years
making pain seem solace
all child and sudden wisdom

amazing me.

Adapted from a poem by Christy Brown

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

It's all-white round here

Sussex has many qualities, it really does. Pretty countryside, small schools with well behaved children, farm shops, forests but with a healthy dose of Chelsea tractors and Cath Kidston bags to boot. For the lack of housing and population why is it so suffocating? Sometimes I feel I can't breathe in Sussex and I need to escape to London to find anonymity, cultures and different colour people. You see, around these parts, we are all the same. All part of one homogeneous gloop -  white, middle-class, educated and I can take a good guess who the majority of people vote for.

We used to live in Brixton, he would say Stockwell. Lets say it was between the two; Brixton being where we shopped, ate, drank and Stockwell where we got on the tube. I miss the Portuguese deli's and their little custard tarts and the manic bustle whatever time of day or night. I miss the opportunist trying to sell me some skunk as I wheeled my daughter in her pushchair. I miss the dude who sells josticks and the woman who shakes a tin trying to sell her crappy child-like drawings. The markets were full of strange fruit, colourful fabrics, smells to make you gag and the odd pigs head or a bag of chicken's feet. And the craziest of hot scotch bonnet chilli peppers. I really do miss all that.

It's sad that my children do not have a large diversity of people to make friends with. That all their food comes delivered from the Sainsbury's shopping man, it's sad that only one religion is learnt about and that if they see a woman wearing a sari they have to point it out as different.

But I guess I can't have it all - I did choose to live here.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

The birth

When A was about three and hardly there at all, we would make many trips to children's farms. Far better than soft play even on a rainy day. 

We would laugh at the chickens funny hair-do's, I would lift the kids up high to reach the shire horse's whiskery nose, we would hold our noses when visiting the pigs and then go and cuddle the calves - who would lick our salty hands and pull at our clothes, much to our amusement.

One trip to Middle Farm on a cold day, just as it was beginning to get dark, I spotted a cow walking around with the tiny hooves of a calf poking out of her, being born. We watched her quietly and privately so she could get on with her job, blowing, sweating, walking around, lying down and standing up again. In between contractions she rested and when a surge came she made a lowing noise, the calf inching its way into the world. A was fascinated and I very excited to see a calf being born. The farm was near closing time and I willed her to give birth before we left, but knowing full well she would birth when she was ready. The farmer came along and looked at his watch, realising the time said to us bystanders;

"If she hasn't had it in 20 minutes, I'll pull the calf out!"

She was up against the clock now. Her contractions were coming fast and she was making more noise as she slowly and beautifully birthed her baby. Next to me, a woman commented.

"Why doesn't he help her? She is in so much pain! Why doesn't the farmer just pull the calf out?" the woman was quite distressed.

"She is birthing so well by herself, " I said quietly so as not to disturb her "She doesn't look like she needs any help."

" I am a Doctor, " the woman replied, "we would never leave a woman like this, it is so cruel!"

And sure enough the farmer reappeared with ropes, which he tied to the calf's legs and pulled with all his might, the cow roaring and bellowing at the intervention. The calf was born and the mother soon licked her offspring and encouraged him to his feet while the placenta was allowed to follow naturally later.

Why am I telling you this? Because A reminded me of this today, how she remembered the details of her first biology lesson. It reminded me of how sorry I felt for this cow and how it is not only animals that are treated like this in labour, but women too.

We need to take back birth and leave the Doctor's out of it.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Green soup

With a chink of sun in the sky, I popped down to the allotment with wellies, to assess the rain damage and to check if anything was occurring. There were the usual mole hills, rotten plants, pitiful slug-eaten beans, some unpicked raspberries and the ever encroaching weeds from a negligent neighbours plot.

But there were joys to be found! One big orange pumpkin, two curly wurly pumpkin/courgettes (I'll have to hunt out the seed packet as have no idea what they are), three yellow courgettes, one mini marrow and a great big bunch of swiss chard. I love swiss chard and so do the kids.

"Go in the kitchen, there's an allotment surprise for you!" I said to the children after school today.

Instead of whoops and squeals over the oddness of the curly pumpkins, they both cried:

"YAAAAY, green soup!"

So that's what I made for dinner, 20 minutes from plot to plate.

Our Green Soup recipe

Big bunch of swiss chard, slugs removed
2 onions
Lots of garlic, 4 or more cloves
A potato
Some oil

Remove the stalks from the swiss chard and chop into small pieces. Chop up onion and garlic. Fry the swiss chard stalks, garlic and onion in some oil, until softened. Add the stock, a chopped up potato and all the chopped green leaves from the swiss chard. Bubble away, adding more stock/hot water as necessary. Whizz with a hand blender. Serve with soft wholemeal bread, chunks of cheddar and a dose of Autumn.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A strange old day

I get really stuck on rainy days like this. I'm not sure if I would prefer it if the kids were here or not. All around the house there are jobs screaming to be done.

"Me first, " says the cooker.

"No, me! I am an unpainted wall, you said you were going to do me last year!" cries the bare plaster.

"Oy, you, the one on the computer all the time, isn't it about time you sorted out this office, look around you its a God damn disgrace!" shouts the room I am in.

But I have ignored them all and spent a happy morning speaking to a long lost friend, having a nosy round The Old Haberdashery and Tatty Tutu's and then finally making the rhubarb and date chutney I promised myself in June. It feels like a major achievement as there is now a gaping hole in the freezer where 2kg of rhubarb once sat, and I have 9 Christmas gifts sorted.

Some days you need a pootle and a potter. Not every day can be a rush from one job to the next productive moment. I needed today and the rain was fitting. My neighbour died yesterday. She was 23. Cancer. I needed today to try and process that.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Yes, I'll marry you my babs!

This was read out at our wedding, happy anniversary to us, 8 years today.

It was adapted from a Pam Ayres poem, written by Tone the Bone

Yes, I'll marry you my babs

Yes, I'll marry you, my Babs
And here's the reason why;
So I can push you out of bed
When the baby starts to cry,
And if we hear a knocking
And it's creepy and it's late,
I'll hand you the torch you see,
And you investigate.

Yes, I'll marry you, my babs,
You may not apprehend it,
But when the tumble-drier goes
It's you that has to mend it.
You have to face the neighbour
Should our labrador attack him
And if a drunkard fondles me
It's you that has to whack him.

Yes, I'll marry you my Blah,
Course you'll have to earn some money
Cos I'll want at least 2 horses
And they're dear, it's so not funny.
Plus that yummy little dinner
Which you served by candlelight,
As I only do organic,
You can cook it very night!

Yes, I'll marry you, my babs,
Even if you are from The Smoke,
And you are a little geeky,
But I loves you, you're my bloke,
I do see great advantages,
But none of them for you,
So before you see the light,
I do, I do, I do!

Well. Erm. Some of that is true. I'll leave it up to you to decide what!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Dear Him,

Dear Him,

I call you 'him' as I know how you love your anonymity, being a Londoner born and bred. You haven't featured on this blog an awful lot but that doesn't mean you're not there. You are my rock, my friend, my drinking buddy, the linchpin of the family, a great dad, my lover and you share my sometimes wayward views.

It's our wedding anniversary next week, 8 years of marriage but we also have 10 years of friendship,1 year of courting and 3 years of living in wonderful, hedonistic sin to add to the relationship. I have known you for 21 years. Darn, that's a long time.

Thank you for everything. For rolling the doobies in Uni, for coming to visit me in Cirencester and rescuing me from the runner beans, for taking us to Spain for a few years to play, talk Spanish and learn about the finesse of sherry and chewiness of jamon. Thank you for joining in my adventures, for showing the country girl London, thank you for moving to Sussex and trying gardening, in your white wellies. Thank you for holding me in labour and taking photo's of the Houses of Parliament, for dealing with that first nappy and the 598 after that. Thanks babs.

Let's have some more adventures! Every year we have tried to push the boundaries a bit further, let's show our children the real world together but save some of the world for us, when the girls fly the nest. I'm looking forward to you coming home tonight so we can light a fire, laugh at the cats, drink too much red wine, get angry at everyone who doesn't think like us, laugh at times past, share stories of the day and listen to hard-bloody-house music.

I love you my babs,
This is just the beginning.


Our week in music








Enjoy, happy weekend y'all.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


When I was in Africa.....(Cue rolling of the eyes from those who know me - not banging on about Africa again, is she?)

When I was in Africa, a long time ago, when I was 18 years old, my life changed. Probably for the better. I was eager for adventure and to nose my way out of the safety and comfort of home. Home being a little village in Somerset full of ponies, A levels and soon, boys. It was time to leave and Africa seemed as good a place as any.

I left with a rucksack and joined a truck, travelled, camped and cooked by fire every night for about 7 months, maybe longer. I didn't have a hot shower for the whole of this journey. Communication was by poste restante. My mum and friends would write me a letter to a far-off sounding place, say Dar Es Salaam or Tamanrasset, and when I eventually arrived at the destination I would present my passport at the post office and pick up the letter. Letters from Africa sometimes got home, sometimes did not.

I had a hammam in Morocco, semi-naked, with the normally hidden women. Crossed the Sahara and rode camels with the Tauregs, caught diseases, ate awful food, saw poverty unknown and bewildering. I went to Rwanda before the genocide and was scared. Zaire even more frightening with naivety being a friend in the heart of darkness. We stumbled upon elephants at night, frozen to the spot in awe of the hulk at the end of the torch light - to run or keep still? We ran. You are supposed to keep still. We swam in turquoise oceans, discovered shells as big as your head in Zanzibar. I got mugged, robbed and ripped off, a number of times. We spoke to the people, sometimes being squashed in so tightly on public transport for hours and hours on end, with chickens, silently content babies and the hopeful tunes of Kanda Bongo Man. We were invited into homes and swapped addresses with people of my age, fascinated with each others lives.

Why am I telling you this? Because I am going to Africa again. I am going in November to see my best friend who lives in Nairobi. And although I certainly will be having a hot shower on this journey, maybe twice a day, I am curious to see if I will see Africa through the same eyes.

I was going to change the world at 18, and now I am just a part of it.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Please don't shout

Nobody shouts at me. Nobody has to shout at me to make me do something. If they ask nicely, politely and with respect and then I probably respond in a positive manner. I like to please people, I go out of my way to be helpful and I wouldn't deliberately disobey. My mum didn't shout at me as a child and I managed to grow up into a decent citizen knowing right from wrong.

So please don't shout at my children or anyone else's children, it's aggressive and bullying and will only serve a purpose momentarily. Read this. Or give up teaching.

Friday, 14 September 2012

"Where is God?"

My children go to a Church of England school. It is a small, country, Victorian school with the church next door - overlooking rolling Sussex hills and with a playground next to rusty brown cows. You could say it is idyllic. Except we had no choice of which school to attend, according to our religion. You see, we are atheists. There are no schools for us around these parts. Consequently my children know very little about God or Jesus, or the bible. It's not that I won't tell them, it hasn't really come up in conversation before, until they went to school.

Day one, last week, P proudly put on her new shiny school shoes, donned her uniform and posed for the obligatory first-day-at-school-photo's. Holding her book bag, PE kit and a bag full of nerves, she bravely stood in her line and entered the school system. I felt the same emotions as when A left for her first day, that time had passed so quickly, that they were wonderful little girls embarking on a new chapter, and sad for me.

"What did you do today P?" I asked, eager to know how she got on afterwards, thinking that she looked too small to be at school.

"We did praying," she replied nonchalantly.

"Oh, what did you have to do?" I queried, thinking "blimey, they got the God stuff in fast!"

"Well, you have to close your eyes really gently, not screw them up like this," cue demonstration
"..and you put your hands together like this, and thank God."

"Thank God for what?" I asked

"For letting me do painting!" she stated exasperated at my questions.

So we left it there. I wasn't going to go any further, just a bit surprised that this is what P remembered and learnt about on her first day. Mmmmm.

Day three, P came home from school.

" Who is God, mummy?"

"Ummmmm..." I was trying to think about a good politically correct answer.

"Because I asked my teacher today," she finished her sentence.

I cringed inwardly, now the teachers knew I was a non-believer, they probably think I vote Labour and read The Guardian as well. Bum, my cover had been blown.

"Well, what did she say?"

"She said that God was there," P pointed at the chair
"....and there...and there!" she pointed to the ceiling and the window.
"God is EVERYWHERE!" she explained dramatically in the way that P does.

"BUT I CAN'T SEE HIM!" she exclaimed frustrated.

I could see her point.

Thursday, 13 September 2012


Suddenly I have got some time, not this week in all honesty as it's been manic, but in general - I have time. I haven't been able to say that for six and a half years. You know, since having children.

There is always something to do, don't get me wrong, but if I want to - I have time to stop and smell the roses, or the coffee, whichever is appropriate. The girls no longer need me like they used to. They're pretty self-sufficient these days and happily get their own breakfast, dress themselves and play for hours unaided. I'm here to just break up any quarrels and give them my great wisdom of course. And seeing that school has begun, someone else takes care of my charges and imparts their great wisdom on them, sometimes. So I have time to work a bit, to do the house work, the gardening and allotment, I have time to get a haircut and ride a horse. But the thing is I always made time for those things, so what has changed?

It's the small stuff. I have time to wander around Great Dixter and marvel at the colours of the dhalias, the firey display in the borders, listen to the hum of the bee's and wrack my brain for the long forgotten Latin names of the plants. Without someone needing a poo, without a little one picking the flowers or threatening to, without someone being bored, or hungry, or tired. I had time to have coffee with a friend today instead of rushing off, and we talked while commenting on the dragon flies and the pungent smell of the water mint surrounding the lake.

I like this, having time.

This is Great Dixter, East Sussex. It's incredible. Do go, if you have the time.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

I had a dream....

I had a dream that I had a tattoo done. I had a dream that this tattoo was of the Uffington white horse and was on my hip and that it was darn cool. I woke up from my dream and said:

"I had a cool dream that I had the Uffington white horse tattooed on my hip, I think I will get it done," all hazily and fuzzily at the 6.30am.

Cue gasp, shock and horror from the parents and parents-in-law as they read about this revelation.

I am approaching 40 next year, I feel like I need to mark it somehow. Not very original I know, but cheaper than a sports car and it WAS a very cool dream.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The holiday is over

Ironing name labels on their school uniform and PE kit as well as naming lunch boxes and book bags and the like, gave me time to ponder on the most incredible Summer holiday time. An unforgettable Summer of fun, adventure, sun (yes, sun), learning and play. A six week break without times, rules, uniforms, maths and English work sheets, without homework, reading specific books and saying prayers. A time for us.

I prefer to reflect on the Summer than write about being back at school. School brings me out in hives, makes me rant and is going to give me an early ulcer. So I am going to ignore it and remember the calm.

Piratey bottom

Somerset skies

Olympics #1

The glads


Teeth dramas


                Beach days and allotment evenings