Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Striking Parent or House Elf?

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about some parents who were so fed up with doing 'everything' for their offspring that they went on strike. The parents continued to cook, wash up and do their own laundry etc whilst they did none of those things for their children. The house quickly turned into a health hazard and after a matter of a week or so, a rapprochement (such a great word, don't you think?) was reached between parents and children whereby the children cleaned the whole house to their parents' satisfaction and a more equal division of duties in future was agreed.

In the little house on the prairie, things are not in quite such a calamitous state but there's a lot of things that go on to which the majority of the residents are seemingly oblivious. And straight away, I want to point out that this is not because I am a hero, I am just a mum.

Most days start with me waking about half an hour before the alarm goes off. I have no idea why this happens but even at the weekends when a small lie-in of half an hour or so could be achieved, I wake up. And once I am conscious, my brain starts lining up the things that need doing. So most days, with very few exceptions, I hop out of bed (actually that's attaching more agility than I have in all honesty so let me just say heave myself out of bed) and start the day. And in that half hour or so, I usually manage to let the dogs out, feed them if it's daylight (our shed where the dog food lives is probably rodent-infested so I'm not doing that one in the dark with bare feet), clean out the grate and lay the fire, make tea and wash up. No, it's not that I don't wash up after supper the night before but number 3 gets peckish about 9 o'clock in the evening and makes himself another meal. And plump the cushions. I could write at length about cushion-plumping because I love cushions and my children don't see the point of them but I must have my small pleasures in life and cushions are one of them!

Sometimes all this makes me feel like Dobby, JK Rowling's house elf. We have friends whose two older children spend a lot of time playing tennis with ours. Their youngest son is not old enough to partake in sport at such a high level (!) and sits at the side of the court until one of the older ones hits a ball on to the cricket pitch, car park, playground etc. The cry goes up: "Dobby!" and off he goes to get the ball and throw it back on to the court. One day, someone will give him a sock (you need to read Harry Potter to understand the significance) and he will rebel!

At this time of year, the Dobby-type activity at the little house on the prairie is drawing towards its seasonal high. Already, in addition to the usual stuff, there is the whole pre-Christmas organisation going on: presents bought and wrapped (last year's wrapping paper has ironed up wonderfully for another turn), cards bought and anyone whose surname begins with an A or B is likely to be a lucky recipient. I can't at this point promise to complete the whole alphabet from the address book but it usually gets done - just in time. And I am about to write an enormous cheque for stamps at the post office because I have decided that although stamps are obscenely expensive, I like Christmas cards too much to be bah humbug about it.

And I know that all my fellow Dobbies will be doing the same. All the ones with high-powered, stressful jobs, all the ones who work tirelessly for charities and give their time for free enabling our cash-strapped economy to limp on, all the ones with small children who require even more time, care and attention than the hulking teenagers in this house - yes, we're all at it. And the ones who are dear to my heart will be coming here for our annual girls' Christmas lunch (I may decide to rename it after this in honour of Dobby) in a couple of weeks before we throw ourselves into giving everyone (and all our relatives) a wonderful Christmas.

So, no, we won't be striking - we will be doing it for love.

Dobby - I think we share the same knees!

Monday, 12 November 2012

The Big List (part 2)

As I suspected from the off, the Big List has to be a two part blog so here is the concluding segment. A friend of mine told me a while ago that she enjoyed my blog but that there was a little too much sport in it. Having just read part one, I think there was very little in that, but I am about to redress the balance!

6    All Gone to Look for America*
As soon as exams were done, we headed off to the States for our fabulous tour of Chicago, San Francisco, the West Coast and Las Vegas. Of all the amazing sights and sounds of that trip with children 3 and 4, the one that stays with me is the spectacular fountain outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas playing Viva Las Vegas sung by Elvis. Utterly brilliant!

7   Sporting Heroes
Well, you knew it was coming... The Olympics were, without doubt, the best ever held - ever. We loved every tear-jerking minute of it (except perhaps Russell Brand - could someone explain to me why?... no, don't bother.) Anyway Jessica, Mo, Andy, Bradley, Sir Chris, the Brownlee boys, the beautiful dressage horses and all the rest, right down to Ripon's Jack Laugher who had the worst day ever, we salute you.

8    I name this house...
Number 3's cricket obsession took an unlikely turn when he (and his delighted family) were invited to Guernsey to name a house after a fielding position in cricket. Cow Corner became Couin de Vacque (in Guernsey patois) and we joined in the naming celebration led by number 3 (unveiling the sign below with a Guernsey flag) who had come up with the name in the first place.

9    The C word
We've become accustomed in this house to summers dominated by cricket. Playing his way up the age groups as well as infiltrating adult cricket at the earliest opportunity, number 3's obsession (see above!) knows no bounds. If he's not playing it, he's watching it. But I never expected to see my beloved and child 4 (she of the big hair and too cool for school) don the whites to play village cricket. They did and they were absolutely marvellous, cumulatively scoring 13 runs at their first attempt. A repeat performance in 2013 is, however, very unlikely!

10    The T word
Scarcely a single mention of tennis. There must be something wrong with me! We played all summer (and I played all winter, come to that) but my best tennis moment, right up there with Andy Murray winning the US Open, was watching our junior tennis team retain their Black Sheep Trophy. For years, we (my fellow tennis club players and I) have coached and encouraged our juniors and last year we entered a junior team in a local league just for experience. To our amazement they won. And despite a slight changing of the guard as some players were too old this year, they won again. And throughout the whole process, they were an absolute delight.

*in the words of Simon and Garfunkel

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Big List

Every year or so, I trawl through all the photographs we have taken over that time and choose a selection to create a montage which hangs on the kitchen wall. For me, it's a way of reminding myself of all the fun we've had and how much the children have grown. Also our wonderful friends and wider family get their places too and it's so lovely to see these pictures every day rather than when I remember to open an album. The wall is now fairly packed but I've worked out that there's room for one more before I have to reconfigure, so last week I chose and ordered the prints and reminded myself that the last twelve months have been fairly epic.

Last week, I also discussed with a client the value of lists as a way of encouraging people to read articles. People love a list - top ten of this and that, worst places to go for dinner, best dishwashers, and so on. Lists are a brilliant shorthand for imparting information. Anyway, the combination of the list conversation and the selection of this year's photographs (yes, I know the year isn't over but it just feels like the right time) caused me to try my hand at the top ten bits of the year so far. Now there has been some cheating, or rather, some grouping because otherwise I can't find the discipline to make the cut at ten but here are (and already I am realising that this might be a two-part blog...), in chronological order rather than top to bottom, some of the top things from this year and a few pics for illustrative purposes!

1    Keeping it Live!
Live music, live theatre, cinema, sport - all of it best when you're actually there. Two top nights of live music - Coldplay with the singing, dancing doctors who took us to Sunderland for a brilliant night, despite the rain, and George Michael at Manchester with Basil and Sybil (of Fawlty Towers fame). Then there was the amazing One Man, Two Guvnors at the theatre in London with the intrepid granny starring the utterly brilliant James Cordon. Conversation beforehand went "You know, Smithy from Gavin and Stacey... A League of their Own... the fat one in The History Boys... " followed by the sound of the penny dropping! The hottest ticket in town and the funniest thing I have ever seen in the theatre. We laughed till it hurt!
2     Edinburgh for the Rugby
We went, England won (somewhat unexpectedly) and we partied like teenagers. The only thing I can think of that would have made my Sunday morning hangover worse would have been if the tapas bar (where we were asked to leave so they could close up) had sold grappa. Brilliant time with wonderful friends. Going back in January to do it all again (but without the rugby).

3     Horseriding in the Lake District
A day riding heavy horses with Basil and Sybil and friends in the spectacular Lake District. Three competent female riders, three incompetent men and six massive horses. The scenery was amazing but the best sights were definitely three men in the saddle for the first time. Hilarious!
4     A Birthday in Rome
Not ours, but we were invited on a birthday trip to Rome by a friend and luckily, exams had just finished so we could leave the children with a reasonably clear conscience and head for the sun. During the winter, ie now, I sustain myself with the thought of sitting outside a cafe somewhere hot with a cappuccino or, better still, a glass of red. We did that in Rome in June and it was... well... heaven.
(Don't normally include a picture of me but here I am with my glass of red!)

5     Three Weddings (and one to come, in case you wondered...)
Three lovely weddings, though we were only at the actual ceremony for one, the other two being in the States. My gorgeous niece who looked stunning with my other gorgeous nieces as bridesmaids, then my dear tennis chum who jetted off to Las Vegas to do the whole Elvis wedding thing and who absolutely deserves to be the happiest woman on the planet. And finally little Hollie who was the prettiest bride and had the wedding to end all weddings. This is setting the bar very high for parents of three daughters - help! Here they are:

To be continued...