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.