Thursday, March 31, 2011


I have been puzzling over Amaia's eye colour now for some time. So I thought that if I removed all the colour from a picture apart from her eyes, I would be undistracted and pin it down much more carefully. It is so much clearer now - they have a blue rim round the edge of the iris and the pupil and in between is infused with a mix of green, yellowish brown and grey in equal measures... I'm so glad you no longer need to state eye colour on passports!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Well what a difference two years can make! Tonight Thomas made აჯაფსანდალი again. He knows it from the year he lived in Tbilisi. It was absolutely gorgeous - I could eat a whole bucketful without ever tiring of it, but Anna, who loved it when we had it in Paris when she was a baby, took ten minutes to chew one piece of aubergine, and I swear she'd have looked happier chewing on a wasp, and when she got to the chunk of peppers, she started gagging as if we were trying to kill her, wailing 'I don't like this!' The solution, of course, is to make it more often so she becomes accustomed once more!

Friday, March 25, 2011


Like our poor dead palm tree (which was guaranteed down to -7 celsius), the adhesive used on our outdoor tiles crumbled under this winter's abnormally cold temperatures causing them to fall off, shatter or shift. Now the weather is finally improving, we're going to have to chisel them all off before they kill the postman. The big question is what to use in their place given the last two winters have been cold enough to shatter our tiles, and those of all our neighbours?


I will never understand this country. Here is a photo of Léon and Anna making a snowman in our garden after a whole-day blizzard last week. It was so bad the high school was considering closing before the roads became dangerous. The next photo was taken at 9-15 this morning, when Thomas and I had breakfast outside in our garden with the girls when they woke up. I was wearing only a t-shirt and a skirt and had bare feet. Anna stopped half way through to beg for sunglasses because it was so sunny!

Monday, March 21, 2011


For want of something better to do, I thought I'd write a concise review of my cooker tonight. Here it is (above): two electric ovens, one slow cooker oven, one grill and seven gas burners: two small burners, three medium ones, one large and a giant wok burner. For starters the slow oven is a non-event - I use it to store baking trays. The ovens are fine, a good size and efficient, as is the grill. The burners aren't 100% ideal. It could use one smaller than the smallest, and one larger than the largest, but on the whole the burners do the job. So what's my gripe? Zoom in and look at the finish. At the bottom of both oven windows the metal has peeled away leaving rusty surfaces, presumably when water on condensation has run down the front of it. This happened within a year of buying it. More rust can be found on the top of the doors and along the rim of the hob. This is hardly what you'd expect from a cooker that is just two years old and cost over £1200. Surely at that price they don't expect you to replace it annually? So I won't be buying this make when this heap finally rusts away completely.


I was reading this article in the Independent today. (Skip down to The seven ages of debt if you are in a rush). I am sure it is meant to shock you into thinking how awful John's future is, but to be honest I think it is over-optimistic.
For starters let's look at points one and two. I have a better degree than John and went straight into Publishing after university. Let me tell you now - no one starts in a publishing house on £30K outside London, and if John's rented flat has two bedrooms and currently costs him £800 a month, he's living too far from London to be working there!
My next quibble with point two is John getting a £170K mortgage. Five years ago John may have got a six times salary mortgage but he wouldn't today, so I can only assume Chloe is earning about the same as John, no less the £25K anyway. If her starter salary is £25K, chances are she too went to uni, so why is her student debt not factored in?
Next, I have an issue with John getting £25K from his parents. Given his parents are possibly around 60, they may indeed have £25K, maybe in equity, to lend him, but pensioners are having interest on savings issues these days, and if they are still working, chances are they will have been made redundant in their late 50s so be less than happy to dish out £25K after doubtlessly helping John through uni. Also, it mentions later in the article that John is one of four. Did Mr and Mrs Skint the elder really have a spare £100K to lend all four for housing? So in my model, John would have a lower salary, Chloe would have a debt and the Senior Skints would not be lending him as much as £25K.
Let's move on to point three... John is 37 and earning £45K. Again unless he's in London, he's got to be a director to earn £45K in a publishing house. He may very well be, but given only one or two in a department of forty or fifty are directors then using the one who made it, rather than Mr Average is misleading. I also believe from the tone of the article that we are meant to believe he is Mr Average. Assuming 37 year old John is Mr Average Middle-Management and has been employed by this publishing house for 16 years then the chances are he will be made redundant between 35 and 45 (and again his salary is too high). My experience says middle management are first to go round after round and rounds happen every two to three years. Also the longer you have been employed, the more likely you are to go so the company can change its pension policies. On average, people in most industries, but definitely this one, do not stay in the same job any more for 16 years without being made redundant. So their average guy isn't following an average pattern.
Also £20K for a wedding, honeymoon and redecoration of a house seems a little optimistic to me. Even your bargain basement wedding and honeymoon would be £10K, leaving £10K for wallpaper, a kitchen, a bathroom, flooring etcetc... unlikely.
Point four is amongst the most ridiculous. He still hasn't been made redundant after 28 years and he is now on £55K in publishing! So if he still isn't in London, he is the MD of the company on that salary. This is highly unlikely in that industry. But better still, after 12 years at home baking cakes and wiping bums Chloe lands a 3 day a week job earning £27K with no current experience. That's a pro rata salary of £45K. Give me strength - cloud cuckoo land, I'm afraid. If you take 12 years out, you go back three days a week as a school secretary or you work in a supermarket or whatever on minimum wage not on £45K, sorry, this is totally unrealistic! And given what I believe John and Chloe would actually be earning, there's no way he'd have paid off his debt in his forties.
Another thing I find hard to believe in this article, call me a cynic, is that if John and Chloe have been together twenty years under quite a financial strain then the chances are John and Chloe would end up divorcing like Mr and Mrs Average in the UK. The divorce rate is over 50% now so to factor a divorce in would make the figures very interesting. Add in the £10K the divorce would cost to fight through the courts, add in buying each other out of the house, add in paying each other their pension entitlements upfront, add in child maintenance, add in perhaps a second family for John when he remarries in his forties, add in starting a new 25 year mortgage at that point and you get something closer to Mr Skint's future.
By point five I am still worried about John representing an average graduate. Aren't two kids more normal than four? And if so John should be paying double for his mother's care home because he should be splitting the costs with just one, not three siblings, more than likely.
Point six - finally he's made redundant after only changing job once in 56 years - sorry this is true of today's over 70s but even my father's generation had stopped getting jobs for life, so I don't buy this.
And finally does Mr Average's mother really not die till he is 75? Wow, interesting. I guess it may be possible by then but we'll have to wait and see.
All in all, if I set out John's life, I have to conclude it looks far, far bleaker than this rose-tinted version from the Independent, I'm afraid!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Marcel goes to Mearns Castle High school. As you come out the front door you see windmills everywhere on the horizon. Every time I visit his school and see them I make a mental note to go and visit the windfarm, but I always forget.

As we left a meeting there this week, I decided to google the farm when I got home and yesterday the weather was passable enough for a visit. I had deliberately not visited the farm in winter because it claimed to be closed. Now I've been, I realize it is the visitor centre and not the farm that is closed in winter so I am already lining up next winter's snowy pictures of these majestic beasts!

Anyway, our visit was a great hit. Léon was in heaven, zooming about hyper with his imagination in overdrive, Anna was a little concerned by the vaguely scary big windmills, but felt ever so brave for walking amongst them. Amaia liked the walk but had no obvious opinion. Even Marcel and Charlotte didn't ooze teenage indifference as usual but asked about the technology behind them and didn't beg to go home. And it was a free, fresh-air experience! Result!

Thomas and I even discussed going power-walking there with Amaia in her buggy on nice afternoons when the other four are off at school and nursery... camera in hand of course!

How have I managed to live here on and off for the last ten years without ever going there?


I was discussing family life with my sister-in-law last week and she mentioned being overwhelmed by washing sometimes (she has a five year old and a baby). Instantly on saying this she stopped and laughed and commented that she was probably saying this to the wrong person, given I was likely to know all about being overwhelmed by washing! So I wondered how many people do washing like us? Let's take my haul for today - we had eight blue IKEA bags (ie eight washing machine loads) today. Of course, as soon as all this was done and put away numbers one through five took baths and refilled the laundry basket in the bathroom bouncing us back to square one! I reckon we average about ten to twelve washes a week.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Here is a photo of Anna with her two grandfathers. She calls my dad Pumpa, a family word invented by Marcel about 12 years ago, and Peter Großvater because he's German. Up till about three weeks ago, that was that. Then suddenly for some reason, perhaps because she has no one she officially calls Grandpa, she decided to invent one. I was driving home from nursery when she first mentioned Grandpa: My Grandpa likes to play tennis, she announced. I asked if she meant dad or Peter but she said she was talking about her Grandpa. After that we have had a piece of random information divulged daily about this grandpa. He has green hair, he likes beans, he has a bum at the front and a tail, he likes to go to the park, he bakes cakes, he sometimes wears skirts, he can hide in her sock drawer, his car is pink, he likes to ballet-dance with Anna and so on. And when I ask who she means by grandpa, she sometimes looks at me as if I'm the one who's daft and says You know, my pretend one!

I wonder if it is normal for your three year old daughter's imaginary friend to be a rather eccentric elderly gentleman!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


One of the great things about living in a multicultural family is learning about all the other country's little festivals and fun days... of course when you mix Scotland, France, Denmark and Germany into the one family then you get more than your fair share of fun. Last weekend Thomas introduced the kids to his barrel-less version of 'fastelavn' complete with iced buns, while we introduced his mother to pancake day on Tuesday. Just as at Christmas, we have to celebrate Christmas both on the 24th for all our European members, and again on the 25th for the Scots - double meals, double presents and such idiosyncrasies and one set of presents lying under the tree on the 24th (which of course must be in the middle of the room, not the corner or window, because you need to be able to dance round it) and another that appear the next morning... though the first batch does tend to nuke the Santa-myth by about talking age! I don't know about my kids, but I like being this kind of multicultural freak!


I sometimes wonder if it is possible for someone to be as sweet as Léon. Today, as I drove him home from school in a violent hail storm, he innocently asked me 'If you were out in the garden with a coffee when the storm came on, would your coffee end up too sweet?' - 'Sorry, what?' I asked puzzled. 'Aren't these lumps that are falling made of cold sugar?' Awwh - I want to live on planet Pudge!

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Here we are (all six of them, plus Amaia and I) out for a walk in the park this very early-spring day. Why, you may ask? Well poor Pudgeman's homework for next Friday, given he's currently studying 'parks', is to collect 14 different types of leaf in a basket for his teacher. She's been very specific - she wants a Hazel, a Rowan, a Birch, a Chestnut, a Maple etcetc but unfortunately she seems to have forgotten to include the tickets for the return flight to Melbourne in his homework folder because I'm blowed if I can work out how you are meant to leaf-collect when it is neither summer, nor autumn...


Derek and Amanda discussed countless names for little Alasdair when he was just a little boy-bump but I don't think Alasdair was ever mentioned to us until he was actually born. All the Als I knew were either Alistairs or Alastairs so when Derek spelled out A-L-A-S-D-A-I-R to me as I sat in the car park of South Devon Chilli farm last August, I felt daunted! I would never remember that! But the kids instantly came up with a solution. The first time I complained, Charlotte told me quite matter-of-fact that they'd chosen the ASDA spelling! Al-ASDA-ir - and it works! I now never forget... I wonder if they have another kid one day if they'll name him/her Al-TESCO-ir, just so stupid auntie can cope?!

Saturday, March 05, 2011


We were discussing the census with my in-laws over dinner the other night. Given they are both foreign and both qualified ministers of religion, they looked quite horrified when we explained the great British Jedi faith joke of the last census. Marcel and Lots, of course were little more than babies at the last one so asked with great interest about it. We explained about people with no religion, or maybe a lapsed one giving Jedi. Marcel chuckled and asked to be filled in as that, given he is unchristened, despite not being overly interested in Star Wars now he's 13. Charlotte looked more serious. She often finds others' humour more difficult to fathom, in a vaguely autisitc manner. I asked if she wanted to be a Jedi too. She thought about it for a moment then replied even more seriously - No put me down as 'Sith'. Should I be worried?