Sunday, July 31, 2011


I am slowly beginning to believe small children are actually insane!
I was driving along concentrating on the traffic when suddenly Anna let out a shriek like someone had jammed her arm in the electric window. I slammed on the brakes and turned round to ask why she was crying her eyes out. 'Léon just stole the last slice of the imaginary pizza I was holding! And now he's eaten it!' she announced, sniffing. Give me strength!
Today took the biscuit... I could hear Anna crying uncontrollably in the garden. Had she been stung by a wasp? Had she jammed her hand in the door? 'What's wrong Anna?' She was holding a wooden stacking block. She held it up. 'This is my imaginary tape recorder – I taped myself singing a song for my imaginary grandpa and Pudge taped over it using his block, what am I going to do now?' She was inconsolable.
I am speechless!

Friday, July 29, 2011


I happened to need to buy a few things today so nipped into an average-sized supermarket in Bibbiena, a COOP. I found most of the things on display (with the exception of the tomatoes and watermelon) a little bit pricier than at home. I know the pound has fallen against the Euro so wasn't overly surprised to find most groceries about 15% more expensive than at home.
The one thing that absolutely floored me, however, was the price of baby and kids' products. Babywipes come in pack of two for €8.50! I could buy four for about £4 in ASDA at home. Pampers Babydry nappies - the ones I buy in boxes of about 100 in ASDA for a tenner cost €10 for 30!
But once the kids get to school, things degenerate further. It occurred to me that picking Léon a school bag and pencil case in the COOP instead of at TESCO once I got home, would mean he would have something different and easily distinguishable from his classmates. The bags looked identical to the standard supermarket ones at home, as did the pencil cases. I had picked Léon up a Kung-Fu Panda bag last year in TESCO for £5.99 and a Spiderman pencil case at about £2.99, so I picked up the equivalent: a cartoon logo bag and pencil case. At the checkout the wanted €58 for the bag and €23 for the pencil case!!!! I wondered momentarily if Italy had gone back to the lira! Imagine buying bags and pencil cases for all five of my kids!
I'm afraid they were quickly returned to the shelf, and I'll be heading straight for TESCO on my return! No wonder Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe!


I've always had a wee bit of a problem with mosquitoes - they're probably one of the only things I am allergic to. Unlike when I am stung by a midge or wasp, mosquitoes always leave me with large weeping sores that ooze yellow pus while the rest of my family simply suffer small, red, itchy swellings.
I lived in France in my 20s and kept it all more or less under control with those little sweet-smelling pellets you plugged into sockets. You could always hear the wee buggers buzzing loudly when they were in the room anyway so they weren't too hard to avoid. So over more than twenty summers in France, I probably had half a dozen really bad bites, no more.
I also spent a summer in Italy as a uni student and vaguely remembered their mosquitoes to be the same.
But I am beginning to wonder now if they are two separate species. I've been in Tuscany now for just over a week and my arms, leg and neck are full of what look like small volcanoes. The swelling is not unlike a small doughnut the size of a 1p piece, rising to a summit that weeps the yellow poison once again. The skin is tight and as hard as a rock and each will take at least another week to ease. The problem is that these little beasties are almost silent - either that or I am becoming hard of hearing in my old age. I can't tell when they are in the room or even on me and when I have caught sight of them, they are only half the size of the ones I know from the East and South of France.
Are Tuscan zanzare different from French moustiques?
Whatever is going on, I definitely seem to be more allergic to the little Italians than the French bugs and that's not ideal given their stealth approach. Also given where my in-laws live, it looks like I am going to have to come up with an airtight holiday suit! :-(

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I have been a lexicographer for over twenty years so I know  everything there is to know about compiling the entry 'fuck' for a bilingual or monolingual dictionary. From the smallest pocket dictionary to the largest several-volume tome, I have had to analyse 'fuck'. Had she not been cremated, my old granny would be spinning in her grave at the thought of her granddaughter being paid to discuss the nuances of 'fuck' in meetings, given she told me once she would never let that disgraceful word cross her lips!
Something interesting has been starting to strike me about 'fuck' and foreigners over the past two or three years. There seems to me to be an inverse correlation between how good a foreigner is at English and how bad they are at getting the nuances and the register of 'fuck'. As foreigners become more competent in English, they believe they can use 'fuck' and all its lemma, whereas those who are less fluent actually believe me when I put three warning stars at the word in a dictionary I am compiling.
Often I notice when I am on Facebook that foreigners who are excellent at English - in particular Scandinavians, Dutch and the likes use it in their facebook status - things like 
  • 'Nursery closed today - fuck!'
  • 'Foggy weather today, fuck!'
I, as an English native, know fuck is way too strong for these comments, but the foreigners seem to think 'fuck' is on a par with 'shit', which it most definitely isn't. Too many American movies have somehow led the non-native, fluent English speaker to believe 'fuck' is something every grandmother utters when the rain comes on while she's hanging out the washing!
This week, I have come across two other examples of 'fuck' in a very non-native context.
Firstly, I was wandering around a large toy shop in Arezzo when I was stunned to hear the music piped in the background was Lily Allen's 'Fuck You'! A catchy, cheery wee tune but believe me - you are never going to hear it piped into Toys R Us in the UK! And later the same day I was passed in the street by a couple, who looked not unlike Thomas and I in age and type, walking up the main street in Arezzo holding the hand of a child - a little boy of about 6, 7 at most, wearing a simple black T-shirt, plain except for the slogan 'Fuck off!' in large white letters. You just wouldn't see that in a native English country.
I'm not a prude, I am happy to use the word in its correct context but I really am considering writing a course for foreigners to get them to understand it in all its glory.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


It has been terribly endearing today to watch my kids refind each other.
The biggies disappeared at the end of June to visit their Granny in France.
Anna doesn't cope overly well when they disappear for a two night weekend, so the summer holiday is worse and worse each year.
On day two Anna asked if they'd be back soon so I knew we were in for a long haul.
Suddenly, visits to and of 'Silly Mad John' increased tenfold. She told us of days out at the beach, plane trips, sleepovers and even 'eatovers' at his house. Isn't an 'eatover' a sweet concept for going to someone's house for a meal?!
Anyway, Anna moped and wasn't quite herself in their absence. The (almost-)baby of the family was forced to become the leader during their holiday. Even Amaia occasionally pointed at photos on the wall and pronounced their names clearly in a questioning manner.
By last week Anna was asking more and more often when they'd return and when they finally walked in last night there were tight hugs all round.
They could hardly get to sleep for excited chatter at bed time - one of the drawbacks to their sharing a bedroom, and today three and four have been glued together. They really miss each other when they are apart.
I suppose growing up in a divorced family is a new norm for many, but it is interesting to watch when it isn't your own experience. One thing is for sure - this kind of enforced separation five weeks every year definitely irons out a lot of the traditional sibling rivalries. They are all calmer and more loving towards each other. They really seem to miss and appreciate each other to a depth of maturity that is rare in such young children. Their bond makes me a very proud mummy!


Today was the big day. Belling were coming to fix my cooker at last.
Well what do you know? Jake didn't bring the correct fascia. I phoned Belling to ask why - they told me there was no Jake! They didn't have an engineer called Jake, however one called Jack had been booked to come to my house on August 1. When we have an appointment, they don't show, but hey when we don't have one they turn up and get you out of your bed! There's organization for you! Ho hum...
So Jack has been rebooked for August 17... (I'm still betting my house that he'll bring the wrong fascia... And, of course, I am betting my garage that he won't actually show at all!)


Thomas has been growing grapes fairly unimpressively in our greenhouse for a few years. I am not sure what's changed but he has so many suddenly I'm wondering if we can maybe start our own brand of wine. That would be cool!

Monday, July 11, 2011


It started with a crusty loaf.

Thomas had spent winter and spring experimenting with roll recipes, with a view to creating little crusty rolls. All his efforts were delicious, but apparently not what he was in search of. He tried spraying them during the baking process with water and that definitely helped but again he was not satisfied. Then one day he found a recipe for creating a bread steam bath. You raise your oven to 250°C but put your bread dough inside a cast iron pot to bake. He decided to try his creation out on Peter (his father) during his last visit.

The buzzer went, he opened the oven, extracted the loaf which looked good and was very crusty, he went to close the oven door when he noticed the pin that closes the oven door had melted! We had a lovely loaf but it had destroyed a £1200 oven in the process - hmmm, I'm not sure any loaf is worth that much!

Now, my Belling oven had been annoying me before this point, but that truly was the final straw, so I went off to phone them. It was two years old, so one year out of guarantee and I hadn't extended my guarantee... I never do, on the assumption that if I save £70 on an extended warranty for every appliance or electrical device in the house every year then I have a pot of about £700 to replace the one that blows up...
I asked Thomas where we'd bought it - appliances online, so figured that was a good starting point.

I asked if they stocked new door pins and after putting me on and off hold, they asked if they could transfer me to Belling Customer Services. Again, I went through my story of an oven that melts at oven temperature and they hummed and hawed before asking to put me through to their parts department. Twenty minutes in and I was explaining the issue for the third time to a friendly Liverpudlian woman - ho hum... She agreed that it shouldn't melt at that temperature but given my lack of warranty, she would offer to sell me a new door. Losing the will to live, I decided to find out the price of the new door before going ballistic or asking to speak to her supervisor - I really couldn't face the story again.

I was put on hold and forced to listen to some more annoying music. She came back with a new bombshell. My cooker was still current but they had discontinued stainless steel because they couldn't source the raw materials and as usual with today's short-sightedness they didn't stock spares. She asked to transfer me to the department that offered current, dissatisfied customers heavily discounted new cookers. One hour in and I was still on to Liverpool. The woman from the replacement sales department asked my name, address and as she asked my telephone number, what do you know - we got cut off! 

Incandescent with rage, I waited five minutes, calming down before starting back at square one - appliances direct. I got through to Liverpool once again to a bloke called Paul. I explained I was on to a woman who was about to offer me a discounted cooker when we'd been mysteriously cut off. Paul sounded surprised. He explained the woman was a new employee and had the wrong end of the stick. On the verge of ranting, I was stopped in my tracks when Paul explained that, yes that was their normal policy but in just this one case, where they had discontinued a model eighteen months ago because they couldn't get the raw materials, they had been offering current customers a different solution. Because they were at fault, they were offering to refit all the panels on the stainless steal cookers with black, free of charge. I shut up and became pleasant to my new hero, Paul!

Paul ordered me two new oven doors, a new grill door, a new slow cooker door, a control panel fascia, and a new surround for my hob. Given my original gripe was about the cooker being rusty, this was going to solve that problem as well as fixing my newly broken oven door. He then offered me a free engineer to fit the lot on the morning of August 15, apologizing profusely that he couldn't do it earlier as two of the doors were out of stock.

The following day a package containing the fascia, two door exteriors, two door interiors, and the hob panels arrived with FED EX. I couldn't believe my eyes - I had had a sneaking suspicion the deal I'd stuck with Paul outside warranty had been too good to be true, but no, he'd actually sent the parts, free of charge.

Then on the morning of July 5, I was wakened at 8am with my phoning ringing. I couldn't find it. With both my parents ill, I can't leave a phone to ring so I dashed to listen to the voicemail... Hello this is Robert from Belling, I'll be with you in an hour. Huh?

Robert arrived and I pointed out we didn't yet have all the parts and we'd been told he was coming a month later! He thought I was a stupid woman who had no idea what I was talking about so emptied all the boxes holed up in my garage. He then pointed out I was two doors short and asked if I wanted him just to fit a new inner door so I could use it while the two doors were re-ordered... With all the packaging open anyway, he made a quick check and announced that I'd been sent the wrong control panel fascia. Mine needed twelve holes for buttons, the one I'd been sent had only eleven. He promised to sort that out with head office.

He left and Thomas and I took the kids to the beach for two hours.

On my return I ran into the FED EX guy again. He was delivering the missing doors. That was quick. That was too quick. The original missing doors were being delivered two hours too late to be fitted.
Meanwhile Robert had left several messages on my voicemail.
Message one - They don't do that fascia any more, you're going to have to kick up a fuss to get a new cooker.
Message two - I've managed to find an old fascia in stock, it's sorted but I can't fit it for two weeks.

Now with all the missing parts except the fascia in my garage, I was ready for Robert.

Wednesday I opened my door to go to B&Q and walked straight into Mr FED EX again. What on earth are you building, missus? he asked, handing me the replacement doors Robert had ordered express-delivery the day before. No extended warranty and now I had no fewer than six door outers and five door inners in my garage!

The following day my friend from FED EX brought my replacement fascia. Call me sceptical but I decided to check it, just in case.

What do you know? It had eleven holes in it. I spent the next 50 minutes onto Tanya from Liverpool who kept asking if I could be put on hold while she read my notes. Eventually, exasperated she told me Jake would bring me the fascia himself next week when he was sent round to fit all my new parts.

I can hardly wait for the next instalment. If I was a betting person, I'd probably put my house on Jake not bringing the correct fascia next week, but on a more positive note - I may soon be able to sell enough spare Belling cooker parts on ebay to be able to afford a brand new cooker!


Thomas has planted currant bushes, along with raspberries, tayberries, gooseberries, cherries, apples, pears, damsons, quinces and even (old William's favourite) 'open arses' in our garden. So all summer long is a feast - as long as you get to the bushes before the kids (and the birds).


We took the girls down to the new museum the other day because they are going stir crazy with their siblings away in France (and we were over that way taking mum to a hospital appointment anyway). They all loved the old transport museum so had been missing it, but its new incarnation is far more dynamic. Anna just loved going inside the old trams and tube trains and pretending she was going on holiday. She loved going into all the old shops in the little street too. She could happily have spent the whole day there.
The new building is great and in a lovely position, though they have way under-estimated the size of the car park and it is quite far to walk from their nearest suggestions, especially if you have small kids or elderly people along. I assume they'll slowly iron out that wee problem though so am looking forward to many happy returns.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


I printed out some of my black and white photos for my wall recently and hung them up. Coming from a colour era, rather than a b&w one when it comes to photography, Anna asked why I'd put a 'grey-skin photo' on the wall. Isn't that a sweet way of describing a b&w photo? :-)

Monday, July 04, 2011


I was having lunch in the garden today with Anna. Most of the way through a plate of scrambled egg she turned to me and said 'I eated all my egg!'
I replied, as I always do when grammar is involved, 'No Anna, I ate all my egg'
She looked scathingly at me, stared directly into my eyes as if I was the stupidest person on the planet and stated quite categorically 'Mummy, I speak Danish, you speak English!'
How do you argue linguistics with a three year old?!

Saturday, July 02, 2011


Nothing beats home-grown fruit, veg and potatoes. These were so good all they needed to make a perfect meal was a little bit of Normandy sea salt butter. Perfect!


Anyone who knows me knows I'm a big photographer. It started when I was given my first camera at 7 and I went SLR at 15 and digital SLR in the early noughties.
At 15 I got my first photo published in the local paper and did all the school's photography including pupils' portraits and sports teams. I had my first newspaper front page about ten years ago when I was lucky(!?) enough to be standing at Mearns Cross with my camera when bus ran straight through the window of Eric Smith's jewellery shop!
Obviously my main love is photographing my kids and I'd love to do it more professionally, but have never really got round to it.
Yesterday I found out Oxfam wanted to use my bizarre chips photo as a postcard of Glasgow! They told me they were looking for a photo that typified Glasgow but wasn't a typical postcard shot. Of course, with my usual luck Oxfam is a charity and doesn't pay, but they are crediting me on the back of each card, so who am I to say no?!

(See this newspaper article)