Sunday, November 30, 2008


We took off the plasterboard walls in the kitchen to replace them this weekend. We had no choice, John Wayne's gang had stuck on the kitchen tiles with concrete so the walls had crumbled and fallen down when we removed them. Confronted once again with an extra DIY job not on my to-do list I was horrified to see how the sockets had been wired behind the walls. I was even more shocked to find the nails they'd used to nail on the plasterboard roughly 3mm from the socket wiring. Looks like my least favourite gang of cowboys came within an inch of their lives!

Friday, November 28, 2008


No sooner do I praise the education my kids are receiving and the school goes and gives them something I have to complain about! Typical!
Marcel was given this proofreading exercise to do as his homework this week. I have absolutely nothing against proofreading as an exercise for an 11 year old boy. It will instil both good spelling and attention to detail in him. But look at it:
  • Sean and Josie stood stil.  Just a momment erlyier a fox had crosed the
    parth, stoped and shakern itself.  Then it sliped quiertly away.  They
    waited in silense hopeing to sea it agen, but eventuly relised it must
    have herd them.
    Wen they reterned to the car park they sore a notise arsking visters not
    to disterb the creaters who might be breading at this time of year.  "I
    hope we didn't wurry that buteaful fox," said Joise.  "I'm shore we
    didert," replyed her frend, "but we'll go now and leave all the animles
    in piece."
This is completely pointless for a Scottish child. All these ridiculous 'r's added in that they would never have even considered adding meant it was way too simple for him. Spelling 'sure' as 'shore' and 'saw' as 'sore', given they don't sound at all alike with our accent, meant he didn't even realize what word was intended! If you want to check kids can spot spelling mistakes, remember where they are from and how it would sound if they read it aloud.


Today is officially my last day employed with Harpercollins. It feels weird to think that come 1pm I will officially be unemployed, or rather self-employed. I guess it is a good thing dictionary writing is such an incestuous profession - I have ex-colleagues at Chambers, Harrap, Larousse, Oxford etc. Looking them all up to beg freelance jobs will feel like a family reunion! Collins hasn't been the same since many of the old timers moved on. We were such a wee family in the beginning.
Wish me luck as I enter this brave new world!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Occasionally my kids watch Are you smarter than a 10 year old, another piece Noel Edmonds drivel. I have actually sat down and watched this one with them despite my strict I will not waste a minute of my life watching inane TV quiz shows rule. The reasons I have found myself watching this are disbelief and curiosity. The show divides the questions into topics and ages - you get an 8 year old English literature question, a 6 year old geography question, a 10 year old history question etc. My kids, who are top of their class here in Scotland, sit unable to answer 90% of the questions - in fact, in general the only questions they can answer are maths and spelling. This puzzles them, but it doesn't puzzle me. The questions, designed to mirror the English curriculum, scream out the horrors of education system they are currently using south of the border. They ask very narrow, very specific facts that you either know or don't - they have nothing to do with being smart or not - they simply have to do with learning nonsense parrot fashion for no particular reason. For example, when my kids study poetry at school, say Wordsworth's I wandered lonely as a cloud, they read a poem and analyse the alliteration, the metaphors, the way language is used, the imagery, all at an appropriate level for their ability, regardless of their age. It seems, if Noel is to be believed, that in England you learn the facts - you might be asked the type of flowers Wordworth mentions in the first stanza (daffodils). Knowing whether it is daffs or roses does not increase your intelligence one iota, but that knowledge gains you a point in their exam and league table driven system so the whole country is teaching inane facts of this type so the kids can pass the exams. They have lost sight of the fact that passing the exam isn't the point of learning - it's better to learn to think but skip the silly meaningless facts. Today's Independent explained the end point on that educational track... Is that really what the UK wants to fill 80% of its youngsters' minds with? My kids do look very surprised when I cry with joy at their inability to answer any of the English curriculum questions - they haven't quite understood the implications of the two systems yet.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I wonder if Sterling would have come up with this ad if they'd known they would go bankrupt last month!? I did feel like scrawling I wouldn't under it with my lipstick but it wouldn't have shown up against the red background!

Monday, November 24, 2008


Lethal Duvet
Originally uploaded by Rob Watling
Am I the only one who hates that lie? You know For reasons of Health and Safety blah, blah, blah... I got one today.
  • The nursery will be running its Christmas show on December 18th. For reasons of Health and Safety we can only accommodate 26 members of the public. These members of the public are each required to have a seat. Tickets for seats are on sale from the office at £1 each. For further reasons of Health and Safety even babies and toddlers require their own seat and thus will be charged at £1 each.
Ok so if you have a 3 week old baby you are meant to try sit it upright on a small wooden chair, God forbid you should have it strapped onto you in a papoose or sitting on your lap - that is just so dangerous for a baby. Why the crap? Send me a note that says Nursery is strapped for funds - please pay £2 for the Christmas concert if you are bringing a baby with you I wouldn't mind that - it is the bullshitting I can't take.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Tesco petrol station 23-11-08
Originally uploaded by PhylB
What the hell is going on with the relative prices of petrol and diesel at the moment? I don't get it. I have owned a diesel car since 2000 and have been more than pissed off that the price per litre in the UK is generally 2p more on average than petrol - pissed off because I know that most other European countries charge diesel at about 75% the price of petrol but 2p isn't going to break the bank. When the prices shot through the ceiling earlier this year to £1-30, petrol followed on close behind peaking in Silverburn Tesco around £1-27, so how come now the price is going in the other direction diesel is being left way behind. The price difference of 16p a litre is outrageous. It really doesn't reflect what is happening to the price of oil on the stock markets. Can anyone explain what's going on, please?

Friday, November 21, 2008


How do you know when you've found your soulmate? Maybe it is when you talk and talk and talk and never run out of words. Maybe it is when you hug and kiss and never run out of love. Maybe it is when your bodies fit together perfectly. Maybe it is defined by shared interests and hobbies. Or maybe it is when you find someone who knows you well enough to find the perfect present for you even if others might overlook it in a shop or think it crazy...
By the way do you like the pink knives and new tools that Thomas bought me?

Thursday, November 20, 2008


We have about four weeks to take out the old kitchen, lay a wooden floor, wallpaper and move furniture in before our Xmas guests arrive. But of course, the cowboys are back with a vengeance. The latest? No doubt to save money, the old kitchen tiles have been stuck on with cement instead of tile adhesive. It's very robust - the wall comes off before the tiles! I fancied adding rebuilding four walls and replastering a room to my pre-Xmas remit. It isn't like I have anything else to do with my time at the moment. It'll save me twiddling my thumbs.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I had forgotten this phase of childhood until recently when Charlotte entered it. Marcel skipped it but Lots is much more of a chemist than Marcel. I'd define it as the
foodcolouring phase, where nothing can be cooked or baked without adding some hideous shade too vivid to be found on the rainbow. Last week we had a blue cheesecake, yesterday I had to negotiate her out of dyeing a carrot cake green - we compromised on green lemon and mascarpone icing. I remember it from my own childhood too. I have recollections of Derek's horror when I made blue scrambled egg for breakfast once... In my memory I was older than eight though - maybe the chemist phase is quite a long-lived one...


I know it makes me a sad person but I like to photograph fruit and veg in markets almost as much as I like to buy it!
Look at these colours! Aren't they stunning? Hey there's a new career for me - food photographer in recipe books! That'd be fun... I am forever ranting about Scottish fruit and veg markets. This is the kind of market I want in Glasgow - and notice - it is in Århus, not the South of France - if they can do it in Scandinavia in winter with their climate, they should be able to do it here too. Pleeeeeeease???

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Now here's something not many kids can say these days. I was on a plane for the first time ever with my parents last week. I find that a bit odd given my own kids have been on probably 50 or more planes each with me already in their short lives. I fly loads, and my parents have taken to flying annually too (though not till after I left home!) When I was a kid we drove in a VW Beetle to Blackpool, or in a Ford Cortina to Devon - we didn't do abroad - that was far too expensive. We did all go abroad together once in my childhood but again that was a 3 day drive to le Lavandou in France. It is funny - I think the longest car trip my kids have ever been on is 4 hours, anywhere further has always been a plane. Marcel goes to high school next year and was asking about potential school trips. I mentioned my friend Hilary's son David (14) was going to the South of France on a canoeing trip (He attends the high school Marcel will go to) - Marcel mentioned that would be an expensive trip what with canoes and planes fares. As it happens it is bloody expensive but they are going by coach, just as I did as a 14 year old when I went to Switzerland as on a geography trip - I mentioned that to Marcel and he looked horrified. How long does that even take? he asked - A couple of days I guess. Can all the forty somethings out there who did this as a child imagine today - being in a coach with fifty fourteen year olds in a coach for 48 hours for the first time in their lives - fun! I'm glad I didn't become a secondary school teacher!


Danish breakfast
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I guess it is like night owls and morning people, you get breakfast people and non-breakfast people. In fact I wonder if they two groups are the same? I must ask around.
What I mean is, you get people like Pudge, who half way through opening his eyes from a deep sleep mutter 'I want chocolate krispies' and then proceed to eat three bowls of chocolate shreddies instantly their feet hit the ground. You get other people like Lots who get up and stare at a bowl containing 6 rice krispies, with horror and no real desire to eat until they have been up for about an hour. The problem is when the two sets overlap.
My dad left early for work when I was a kid and my mum is a non-breakfast night owl. We didn't really do breakfast, if we did it was rare. I went to school and first ate something at playtime around ten. It didn't bother me because it was what I knew. It was normal. I didn't realize I was actually a breakfast person! I lived alone as a student all round Europe and carried on with the routine. When I moved in with André, he assumed we would eat breakfast, so I ate breakfast, and only then realized I am actually a Pudge-person. I function much better on a big breakfast. If I had never lived with a breakfast person, I would probably never have discovered that. I wonder how many non-breakfast eating breakfast people there are out there. The opposite isn't true. Non-breakfast people being brought up by breakfast people sit horrified every morning with the sleepy nose in a bowl unwanted cereal or the likes.


Another thing that really annoys me is why stubborn, stupid Britain didn't swap to driving on the right hand side of the road like 90% of the places Brits are ever likely to need to drive a hire car 50 years ago when it would still have been feasible. I've been driving here in the UK for 23 years, and first started driving in Europe about 21 years ago when I lived in France. Because of that I find driving in both places exactly the same. It comes naturally. I don't have to remind myself to go round roundabouts the wrong way or the likes. One thing I have noticed though over the years is how off-putting people inexperienced at driving on the other side of the road find it. Many Brits are ill at ease at the thought of driving in Europe, many Europeans refuse point blank to hire a car here. Worse still some hire them and then do accidentally take to going round roundabouts backwards or up the wrong side of the road. And taking our own cars on holiday is at best tedious when you want to overtake, at worst dangerous. Why did we feel it necessary to make things so complicated for ourselves? It isn't that right is better than left, it is simply more sensible when you are joined to an entirely right-driving continent. What a complete pain! I'd still change today if they were considering it!

Monday, November 17, 2008


If you have never lived abroad, this scenario probably has never occurred to you. Imagine you get posted alone to a foreign country - it needn't be far - say somewhere else in Europe. You go to the supermarket and you find a local delicacy with no instructions, but being adventurous, you buy it anyway. An example: when Thomas first moved to Scotland he happened upon potato scones. Fresh, he had no idea what they were. He realized they were savoury so grated cheese on them and made them into a warm toastie with a cheese centre. I'm sure they tasted fine but left in a room full of Scots the large arrow pointing at him would have been screaming foreigner, perhaps even foreign weirdo! Last week in Denmark Dad couldn't pretend he didn't know what a Danish pastry was but the arrow was definitely pointing at him when he topped his with Camembert 'just to take the edge off the sweetness'. It was just too weird for the natives!

Saturday, November 15, 2008


People assume children love cuddly toys. All of my kids received cuddly toys as gifts when they were little.
I had a large blue teddy bear named Kissy as a child who went everywhere with me - I even remember falling out with my mum in '76 because she claimed (unreasonably as far as I could see! ) that it could not be fitted into our family VW Beetle for a trip to Blackpool along with me, my brother, 2 suitcases, a tent, and all our camping gear!
Charlotte was obsessed by this snowman from three to six. She had my mum knit him a coat claiming he was cold. Remembering my traumatic separations from Kissy as a child
- I used to leave her carrots and berries when we went on holiday and tuck her up in bed so she would feel safe and I would then take a drawing of her with me - I let Lots take Frosty everywhere - he's flown all over Europe, always in hand luggage in case BA should accidentally transfer him to Osaka!
Léon is the cuddliest little boy I know - he often spontaneously comes out with 'I need a hug' and sits hugging you tightly. But he is completely uninterested in cuddly toys. Yesterday for Children in Need everyone had to bring a bear to nursery. As we waited to go in 90% of the kids stood tightly hugging or kissing their bear. Léon, as a last minute gesture, had taken Anna's purple zebra and held it dangling by one leg. When I went to pick him up, his teacher said she'd had to retrieve it all afternoon as Léon had kept putting it down completely disinterested. If she'd binned it, he couldn't have cared less. It isn't a lack of paternal instinct - he had a tantrum yesterday when I didn't let him change Anna's nappy (he'll make someone a wonderful husband one day!) and hugs her constantly, almost smothering her. He just sees cuddly toys as insignificant pieces of material. Marcel was the same as a small boy. Happy to cuddle me but not interested by inanimate objects...
Interestingly, Charlotte was only interested in the snowman after I stopped breastfeeding her. I wonder if Frosty was a mummy replacement and the boys just didn't need mummy replacements once they came off the boob because they were happy to admit they needed a hug while Charlotte was trying to act grown up and independent? I must monitor it with Anna, who so far also shows no interest in cuddly toys.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Ok, I am on antibiotics for a chest infection so I'm not in the best of moods, but even in a better mood I still hate Children in need day!
As a mother of 4 for starters people expect you to contribute 4 times - the big two come home from school with letters saying they can dress in their own clothes today but must make a minimum donation of £1 to to Children in Need charity - for minimum £1 in East Renfrewshire read about £3 - so that's £6 for starters, then the little one comes in with a sponsor form. He's doing a sponsored 'welly walk' for Children in Need 2pm to 3pm - so you are expected to rustle up another £10 or £20 for that, oh and they have the cheek to ask you to come along and supervise the activity at nursery as an adult helper - so they want dosh and your time. Then the littlest one - thank God she's stopped going to toddlers' because they want £1 minimum towards a Pudsey cookie today. So imagine I had contributed the required amount to save face - that's me down £27 before I leave the house. I then go to ASDA to pick up antibiotics for my chest infection and someone dressed as a large bear rattles a bucket in your face and tuts when you don't cough up another quid. Then into the office (thank heavens I am still on maternity leave officially) because there too I would be expected to wear a green wig and no doubt pay another £3 for a homemade cookie on the first floor. That's me up to £31.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against charity, it is these mass UK charity events I hate with a passion. If I want to give to charity, I want to give to a charity chosen by me and when I want. I might want to sponsor an African orphan, or give money towards research in MS or diabetes for example, but I don't want coerced into it and tutted at if I chose to do it next week and not this.
I think the real problem of these large sponsored events is that I am too European and not British enough. These mass charity galas just piss me off. I find them alien to my culture and incredibly off-putting. Sponsored anything immediately gets my back up. Idiots sitting in cold beans having their hair dyed green is never going to get me running to the bank for a donation. In fact it is more likely to get me sitting under my duvet avoiding the TV and radio and the idiots with the buckets.
Worse still they force Terry Wogan and Keith Chegwin in your face all day.
As my old Gramps might have said - Awwah an' bile yer heids - yer no gettin' a penny affa me!
I will now go and not watch TV for the rest of the day in protest. I think I am doing well so far this year. It is 1-39pm and they've only got £1 out of me so far and that is because nursery wasn't letting you in without a donation!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I am slowly coming to the conclusion that Anna is right handed. That's not exactly newsworthy in itself, but the reason I am so certain is because the little monster has taken to doing all her feeding herself and when she is full, instead of saying she is full, given she can't talk at 10 months, she simply wipes her filthy spoon on the nearest piece of material... my seat at the dining table is to Anna's right and the nearest piece of material is invariably my jumper

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


We flew over to Denmark for the weekend using Ryanair's new direct Edinburgh to Billund flight - wow - what a difference a direct flight makes considering the tens of hours spent in Stansted over the past 3 years, not to mention the price of £35 return each! The timing isn't great given the flight opened about 3 weeks before Thomas's parents' retirement and house move but I guess it is handy for all of Jutland, wherever they end up.
It is even handier for a wee family weekend in the original Legoland which is within walking distance of the terminal building at Billund and can entertain anyone between 1 and 15 (and their parents) for 2 days minimum.
We did have one rather strange experience, and that was the airport car park in Edinburgh. It seemed unnecessarily complicated. I have often left my car in both Prestwick and Glasgow. You book online, pay by credit card, turn up, park and go on holiday. When you return, you insert the same credit card in the ticket machine and it lets you exit with your car as it recognizes you have paid. A simple experience.
Edinburgh, however has a seriously bizarre system. You book and pay online, same as Prestwick, same prices, same distance to the terminal building. In Edinburgh however they insist you will be fined if you don't leave your keys. So you turn up, drive in and park, you then have to look for someone to note down your number plate and parking bay, print this information out twice, you get one copy, the other copy goes in a plastic food bag with your keys. Your keys are then tossed into a pink box with literally 300 sets of keys. You are told that when your return flight touches down you must text them a number. When you do this they hunt through their box of keys, find yours, drive your car to the opposite side of the same car park then leaving it unlocked, they come and hand you your keys at the terminal building and offer to drive you the 500 metres to your car. Weird! What is wrong with the good old West coast solution?? What advantages does Edinburgh see to this crazy system? Answers on a postcard please, I'm intrigued!


I finally got out the
stitches in my leg yesterday. I had been looking forward to it because I'd been sewn up so tightly I couldn't kneel down - not ideal for cleaning the baby's bum! I sort of assumed I'd be left with a tiny scar and it'd instantly stop itching and nipping. Firstly, the nurse who took out the stitches needs her own trip to the optician - after she's finished taking out the stitches, I took out 2 more myself - I could feel them and see them (without my newly acquired glasses), but she insisted they were all out! Silly besom. Then I had a wee look at my newly healed leg - I look like bloody Frankenstein's monster! Why did taking a slightly itchy pea-sized lump from my leg leave me with a 3cm wide, 3cm deep chasm that itches and throbs like hell? I am not amused!

Monday, November 10, 2008


We seem to be back in Scotland again, despite the weather's best efforts to keep us in Denmark. We woke up to a mini hurricane in Sdr Vissing this morning and tree branches had to be extracted from my hire car's wipers before the return leg of the journey could begin. Apart from a little more turbulence than usual, the trip was fairly event free and on schedule. Having lost our only pack of baby wipes yesterday, Anna obliged by deferring pooing till we reached British soil, thus saving us from having to take out a bank loan to buy a pack at Danish prices. Thanks Anna!
So once the washing is done, I'll be back with photos of the Danish autumn.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I don't usually blog at 2-27am, but it looks like Obama has won!


Anna has become very serious about pointing this last week or two. She likes to read books, pointing at objects and trying to repeat the names of the nouns. Thomas was more than proud today though when, for the first time, she pointed excitedly at the TV when Star Trek came on!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


It's funny - because Anna knows her daddy, when he dressed up as a very scary vampire for Halloween she didn't even bat an eyelid. But Anna is 10 months old. Léon, however, who is older and therefore has developed
imagination, ran screaming in terror when he came across Thomas in the hall. In fact Léon's imagination is currently so vivid that if Thomas puts a towel over his head while getting dried after a bath he almost faints in fear because Thomas has become a ghost. Personally, I found him much more terrifying in Amanda's wig after a beer or two!


Our favourite curry house
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Anna has fallen asleep on me so it is computer or nothing...
After the Halloween party last Friday Thomas and I opted for a curry from our favourite curry house. It's been a few months since our last visit so I forgot there is no way you can fit in a starter and main course. Struggling through what seemed like a family portion of cumin-fried potato fritters, I was wondering where I was going to put my biryani. There was an Indian bloke eating alone at the next table. His entire table was covered in food. I was wondering if he was expecting company when he shouted over a waiter. Could I have the bill? he asked, Oh and please parcel up all my leftovers to go he added. The waiter simply said Of course and rushed off for takeaway boxes. My favourite restaurant suddenly bounced even further up my ratings.I didn't know you could get a doggy bag! I ate half my biryani, then had a lovely second curry for lunch on Saturday afternoon! Double yummy!


Léon is becoming a costly child. The problem is cheese in general, cheddar in particular. Where most 3 year olds will be pacified by a digestive biscuit, a banana or a yogurt when they feel peckish, Léon, if left to his own devices, would go for a mature cheddar! He isn't prone to tantrums, but doesn't take kindly to being hauled out of the fridge when he is caught inside, climbing the shelves with a view to sinking his teeth into a £4 block of
Seriously Strong! I guess I know what'll be top of his Santa list this year!


I saw this photo taken by one of my flickr friends (Paul McRae) a few months back but didn't blog it then - I think it was while Hillary was still in the contest. I decided to wait till today. Isn't it cool? I think it says it all.
Sad about the Grandmother though.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Fame at last!
Originally uploaded by PhylB
Well what can I say? For 18 years I have driven into HarperCollins to write them dictionaries. It's been fun for the most part. I think I am quite good at it - word analysis, structure, the bilingual element. But for some reason this country's economy is senseless. Publishing pays less than an average wage, though you have to be a university graduate to work in it (note that - anyone who assumes they'll ever pay off their student loan one day working in publishing!) To go back to work I would need to pay 2 private nursery places - I don't think having two pre-schoolage kids is that unusual in the Western world, but two nursery places (once you add on the petrol to get to work) actually means you work for nothing - nada, niente, zilch! So my 5 years of university education, my Master of Arts degree, and my 18 years experience in lexicography are to be shelved for want of a nursery place I can afford. Gordon thinks I'd be better staying home hoovering and wiping bums - sad, really.
Anyway, I guess like many before me I will now try to work as a freelance lexicographer from home, adding in a bit of photography and painting the odd kiddie mural to make ends meet. Isn't it just a crazy way to run a country, though!?

Saturday, November 01, 2008


Sore leg
Originally uploaded by PhylB
I've had a little pea-sized lump on the back of my leg for a few years. Over the summer it woke me up a few times as it was itchy and often felt like someone was pulling under the skin. I got a hospital appointment and found myself in a department in the Victoria Infirmary that seemed to deal almost exclusively with skin cancer. The doctor hurriedly told me not to worry, I was only there as he was a dermatologist and cancer wasn't on the cards. He analysed it and diagnosed an old mosquito bite that had become calcified under the skin and was irritated. He asked if I wanted it left or cut out. As it itches I opted for the chop.
After a 10 week wait (they don't prioritize mozzy bites!) I suddenly realized my appointment was at 2pm on Halloween - not ideal as I had volunteered to be a vampire at a kiddies' Halloween party at 4pm! Anyway I went along. They were running late, of course, so I didn't go under the knife till 2-30pm. The procedure was interesting to watch - though I have a stiff neck today - have you ever tried lying on your front watching someone chop up the back of your leg for half an hour? The anaesthetic was amazing - my leg was completely numb after less than 5 minutes and I felt nothing while they chopped me up. The 2 nurses were wonderful - so friendly, caring - real stars. I had a lovely half hour - ok they boosted my morale by looking genuinely surprised when I said I had had four kids - they said I didn't look old enough to have had four already - they boosted it further when they looked genuinely shocked when I told them I was forty! I could get used to this sort of positivity, I wonder if I can book an op every Friday afternoon.
The weirdest bit came when the second nurse was doing the paperwork while the first sawed my leg. The first looked suddenly stunned and said - I am about to tell you something amazing. She had lived in my house 1979-1984! She described the garden, the house, even the garage we'd had knocked down 5 weeks ago. Small world!
Anyway, I got out at 3-05pm and made the Halloween party dead on 4pm feeling absolutely fine. The main nurse had warned me the anaesthetic would wear off after 4 hours and I'd need painkillers. By 8pm I was thinking she was quite mad and I felt fine. I went to bed just after 11pm. I woke up and sat bolt upright with a throbbing leg and looked at my projection clock - the ceiling read 11-45pm. Since then I have been wondering why exactly I thought cutting out the itchy bit was necessary. It bloody hurts!