Friday, August 30, 2013

Photos to revisit

This made me laugh today... It also got me thinking about the endless fun I'll be able to have twenty years from now - here's a small selection!

10 oct wk 3 15 captured by the dark side

Thursday, August 29, 2013

0/10 for logic, dear!

Stirling Castle trip by PhylB
Stirling Castle trip, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I just overheard one of those wonderful bilingual conversations between Léon and Thomas - into the bargain - the logic made me laugh!

Thomas: Hvor mange ben tror du et tusindben har Léon?
Léon: Emmm, I don't know. Forty?

Shaking my head in disbelief!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

3 year old psychology

2013-08-27 09.06.52 by PhylB
2013-08-27 09.06.52, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

Another one of those priceless conversations that is there to remind me why I decided to become a mum!
Amaia: Nursery is kind of like my job, isn't it?
Me: Yes pet
Amaia: So why don't I get paid for coming?

Monday, August 26, 2013

My gran

1968 me & gran by PhylB
1968 me & gran, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
A good friend posted a photo on facebook this weekend of something that brought memories of my granny flooding back! Thanks for that Karen!

What was it? Well we lived in Scotland which is a very a rather wet place, and gran had very curly hair that she liked to tame with over-sized rollers. I found that rather confusing as a child with poker straight hair. She always used to claim she needed to use rollers to straighten her hair after washing it, but it seemed to have the opposite effect when she put them in my hair! Anyway, because she went to such trouble with her hair, she couldn't contemplate being caught in a shower and having all that good work undone. She used to have several rainmates about her at all times - one in her bag, one in each pocket etc. That of course meant that when we were caught in a shower together she always had a spare and insisted on putting one on me... walking home from school in a rainmate does nothing for your self-esteem in early childhood! Worse still Gran never learned to drive so we were always on foot when we were caught in rain! Even at fifteen or so she'd try to get me into one. I always tried to make sure we shopped away from anywhere my school friends might potentially bump into us!

It's strange - looking through old photos, I have none of Granny in a rainmate - I guess I would have had one or two had she survived into the digital era!


Friday, August 23, 2013

Demolishing my old high school

Over the last year or two tens of millions of pounds have been poured into building a new high school to replace the one I attended as a teenager. The new one has been ready for months and looks great but when they started bulldozing the place where all my memories lie, I felt strangely compelled to visit daily and watch as they pulled it apart brick by brick.

In all it only took about three weeks to take apart and recycle the place where I learnt who I was and what I would grow up to be. Three weeks to remove the building where I learnt how to speak French and German, and where I sat the exams which led to me becoming the first member of my family to go to 
university and get a degree. Everything that I have become can be traced back to that building... It was through school that I met my first husband and thanks to the French we spoke together that I got my job writing French dictionaries, where I would later meet my second husband. All my kids indirectly owe their existence to this place! 

The new one has now opened with the old name and only minor changes to the uniform. Marcel has some friends who attend it and they are all raving about the 21st century facilities but to me this decrepit old building is much more dear to me than any million pound building. At least that tall tree is still there in the background watching over it as a landmark of my past.

Have a look here.


Hamster accessories - a warning

Rosie by PhylB
Rosie, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I haven't had a hamster before. When we decided to get her, we bought one of the largest cages on offer. In addition to that we bought the only wheel available at the local pet supply shop, some tubes, a litter box and a little house. Within two months of us buying all this, our wee hamster had outgrown all of it. She didn't fit through the tubes any more. Had she tried running on the wheel, she's have snapped her spine and she could not squeeze through the door of her wee house. (No, Rosie is not an exceptionally large monster hamster, before you ask!) 

These items are not marketed as baby hamster products, merely hamster products. In addition pet stores don't actually stock anything bigger. I had to go on the Internet to find a wheel that wouldn't cripple her. I can understand if the pet shops offered both, but they don't.

Maybe it's a marketing ploy to have us believe hamsters stay tiny, but they don't so squeezing them into tiny cages where none of the accessories fit is cruelly undesirable. So if you, like me, are contemplating your first hamster, try looking on somewhere like Zooplus  instead of being duped into buying one of those tiny (and temporary) hamster torture chambers on offer locally.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Evil, and persistent instrument of torture







 Here are four photos of my childhood. The first is taken in the summer of '71 when I was three and a half years old and my brother had just been born, the second is from the following summer when I was four and a half.

We then skip ahead to a rather posed shot from the summer of '74 so I am six and a half and finally we reach the summer of '76 so I'm a ripe old eight and a half and just at the beginning of p5...

So what do you notice? Yes - I am wearing the same bikini in all of them.

It was bad enough to have to wear the same bikini from the age of three right through to primary five but more traumatic still was the major reason it fitted me so well for so long was because my granny had knitted me it! And being made of wool, it was stretchy. Now I know the UK was not and is not renowned for its tropical climate, but still you don't necessarily want to be wearing a woolly bikini every summer - that last photo was from the heatwave '76 after all! And the plot thickens... As you can see it is a pretty little thing - with a very feminine, integral woollen skirt... And not only should you notice I am wearing the same swimwear in every photo, the other similarity is that it is always dry... Why do you think I never got my bikini wet? Wool, water, gravity... need I say more? It was an evil and long-lived instrument of torture that blighted my summers with heat, and embarrassment. No wonder I didn't become a very good swimmer till high school.

Maybe I should start a self help group for people traumatized in childhood by grannies' inescapable knitted nightmares...



Wine caps



My old Gramps liked a drink. One of his most annoying habits was sneaking a wee mouthful out of dad's whisky after everyone was in bed and topping it up with water so no one would notice (or so he thought). Obviously this irked dad somewhat, especially when he opted for his dearest malt. If you had him for a week's holiday, the malt was almost transparent by the Friday! Occasionally, of course, he could slip up - it didn't work with Pernod, for instance!

Thomas has taken to making his own alcohol. First it was beer, then cider and finally wine. To make it as authentic as possible he bought a corker and some little plasticky caps for the top. You put them on loosely and then you put them in boiling water to shrink them on. Helping Thomas to attach them the other night, Gramps immediately popped into my mind. If these had been available in his day Gramps could easily have emptied dad's entire wine rack and refilled them all with coloured water without being caught. Dad would have been livid!














OAP mutiny at the self checkout

Just for you Rob...

So our new four course a night dinner regime necessitated my running up to ASDA last night at six for a couple of missing items... At six on a Wednesday evening ASDA seemed to think the optimum till configuration was approximately eight open basket self checkouts each with one customer, four large trolley self checkouts (which were installed less than a month ago) each with one customer, three manned trolley checkouts each with five customers (mostly over sixty) and ten closed man-able checkouts. I happened to be at the self checkout closest to the manned one with five pensioners at it. The wee man in charge of all the self checkouts approached the woman at the end of the long queue and tried to usher her towards my checkout with a smile and a 'this self checkout is moving more quickly and I can help you if you haven't used one before'. He was in his twenties. She was late 70s. She turned out to be none other than (a clone of) Mrs Richards from Fawlty Towers... (Remember the wildebeest sweeping majestically?)



'Excuse me?' she bellowed. He repeated his suggestion. She looked around wildly and then shouted as if her hearing aid was turned off 'Am I being paid to work at Asda?' The boy looked sheepish. She shouted louder 'Is Asda paying me?' He dared to ask 'What for?' She then pointed out that if the chap at the checkout she was waiting at was being paid for ringing up her groceries, she would not use a checkout where she did his job without receiving the same renumeration. '...Refuse to use the bloody things!' she muttered. Her whole queue went from staring embarrassedly at their feet to nodding appreciatively. Then she spied a poster hanging above the till with the slogan 'Asda, Happy to Help!' 'Who is it you're happy to help, young man? Because it obviously isn't the customer! Three checkouts on just before dinner time?! Happy to help indeed!!' 'Young man' scuttled off muttering about finding her a manager to speak to. As the waiting continued she whipped all the OAPs up into a frenzy ranting furiously about trying to force people onto self checkouts unwillingly and when the manager finally arrived he was almost knocked over be a herd of pensioners sweeping majestically ranting in unison about ASDA's recent attempts at staff cutting!

I had to leave then so I'm not sure if he got out with his life or if Mrs Richards is still giving him a roasting!

'J' and the Goldfish!

giant goldfish! by PhylB
giant goldfish!, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
It's been a while since we last heard from 'J'...

Mum was out for lunch with her the other day and was recounting the story of us losing Rosie. 'J' asked if Rosie was easily replaceable in a find another hamster that looks the same, stick it in the cage and lie to the kids kind of way, so mum pointed out that because of the odd diamond on her back that might be hard.

That, of course, led 'J' onto a story of her own...

Many moons ago, when her children (who are just a few years younger than me) were still living at home, a neighbour had asked them to look after their pet goldfish while on holiday. They had two. A week into the holiday 'J' was beside herself when she found one floating lifeless on the surface of the tank one morning. She decided that goldfish were replaceable so scooped the dead body out, wrapped it in kitchen roll and stuffed it in her handbag. Later that day, she made her way to the local garden centre and took out the dead fish and asked the assistant if they wouldn't mind looking through their fish for something similar in size and markings. The manager seemed somewhat surprised she had a dead fish in her handbag but caught a few in his net before she agreed to one which was a reasonable replacement. 'J' returned home, her plot had worked.

You can guess what happened a few mornings later though, can't you? Yes, fish number two kicked the bucket too! So off 'J' went with another handbag containing a corpse and after rejecting many fishy impostors and exasperating the manager to the point of being asked not to bring any more dead fish into his shop, she returned home once again. Mission accomplished.

The friend returned from her holiday and didn't notice. Neither did her kids. Phew... 'J', of course, felt bad so took the neighbour to one side and explained what had happened and how the kids would never need to know. The neighbour didn't seem to appreciate the lengths 'J' had gone to and disapproved of lying so immediately called the kids in and used the opportunity to explain death to her kids citing what 'J' had done in their absence! 'J' was of course incensed after all the bother she'd gone to!

Note to self: Don't leave Rosie with 'J' when we go on holiday...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It's a gift

A day-trip to Largs by PhylB
A day-trip to Largs, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
The newspapers and social media have been full of statuses bemoaning the ridiculous length of the school summer holidays. Six or seven weeks is completely incompatible with work and if you don't work having them under your feet that long is a nightmare. Of course, as someone who works from home the thought of five off for the summer meant facing the logistics of working late evenings, early mornings, during the night or even all three. But strangely as I dropped them all back at school this morning, exhausted from all my late-night working, the fact that I didn't get away on holiday and didn't have any time off, my overwhelming thought is 'Already?'

The summer with all my kids around me is over and I am sad because having all ages in childhood's spectrum, I know it is over in the glint of an eye. The seven weeks I had to work nights were hard but they were truly a gift because the next time I have that special time with my kids, they will be a year older, a year more independent and a year more distant. I'm thankful for every minute of those six or seven weeks because I did get to spend one of the very few summers left to me as the mum of children, as opposed to the mum of adults who drop by for a summer visit. Childhood is so precious. I didn't realize how much I missed out on when I used to take them on holiday three weeks then send them to summer clubs because I couldn't take any more time off. Working from home is stressful but it compensates in ways that are immeasurable. I wish people realized they should be arguing for work to accommodate the holidays, rather than the opposite.

It might not have been the summer of my dreams (we didn't get an all-inclusive somewhere tropical!) but I got to be a mum and that is more important than any other job I do.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Washing-up anthems


We have a chores rota in our kitchen. All kids get to cook, they all get to set the table, the three oldest get to fill the dishwasher and the two oldest get to tidy the kitchen once the dishes finish. Basically Anna and Amaia aren't tall enough to put the dishes away yet and only Marcel and Lots are still up when the kitchen needs tidying. Anyway, it isn't what they do but how they choose to do it that I find fascinating. They are all into listening to music on the ipod while working and the music they choose for table setting and cooking is quite varied but all three have specific music they listen to only while doing dishes as if they associate that with getting through what is their least favourite task. Marcel alternates between Jacques Brel and Paolo Nutini for dishes. Léon always opts for some foul-mouthed rapper whose name I forget, though he would never listen to him while cooking or playing, and worse still only one specific tune can be used for dishes played on repeat! Lots, who is usually into One Direction, Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift always listens to the soundtrack of Lion King 1 for dishes. It's all very odd...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Self portait

Self portait by PhylB
Self portait, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
There's something very sweet about that stage three year olds go through where bodies are an afterthought! You can tell thr importance of difference bodyparts to Amaia. She currently draws a head, then hair, next come eyes, a nose, a mouth, then two legs, two shoes, next come eyebrows and only once all this is in place does she add a body, a skirt and last but not least the two arms! If she deviates from this at all, it is simply to omit the body or hands! Here's the finished article!


Waverley at Port Carrick beach

Waverley at Port Carrick beach by PhylB
Waverley at Port Carrick beach, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I was sitting on Port Carrick beach last week with two mum friends from Léon's class when the Waverley suddenly came steaming by. In all the hundreds of times I have been on that beach, that has never happened before. I'm glad I happened to have my proper camera on me, though unfortunately the big lens was at home.

No more cappuccinos

More cappuccinos by PhylB
More cappuccinos, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
Here we go again! It's been exactly a year since we last visited the cappuccino saga...

Last Friday the thing ground to a halt during its grinding sequence. Thomas took out the compartment that catches the ground coffee and emptied it. He tried to put it back but it jammed. We decided to take out the grinder by pressing the lever that said press here. Now neither the ground coffee catcher nor the grinder will slide back into place for some reason. This is tedious. Life is too complicated to deal with the daily grind without a decent coffee to send you out in the morning. And when Marcel gets home from his holiday and finds mummy and daddy have broken his beloved machine, we'll be on the naughty step for the foreseeable future... Ho hum.

More is less

Cooking by PhylB
Cooking, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
We've slowly been rethinking our way of eating over the last month or two.

We have not been happy with the composition of our meals. In general we eat lovely food because Thomas is a great cook and he's taught the kids to cook so every night is like a restaurant meal but because things taste great we eat too large a portion too late in the day. So we've been analysing how to eat less in the evenings and come to the strange conclusion that we can do so by eating more!

Thomas spent a lot of his childhood in their family's Tuscan home so we tried turning our thoughts to a more Mediterranean diet. What if we had four courses every night instead of one? Tonight was typical. We started with maybe six or seven olives each. Next Thomas made a risotto for four and served it as a starter for seven (Marcel is away but mum took his place). Next we took a few spare ribs - maybe three or four each - and simply cooked them in the oven with a bucketload of fresh herbs from the garden and some tomatoes and finally a plate of strawberries. We tried something similar several times last week too. One day we had bruschetta with fresh basil from the garden, followed by three pieces of fresh ravioli each with tomato arrabbiata and then half a steak each with some lettuce. I think if we lumped everything on our plate at once we're probably eating only two thirds of what we used to eat with our meat intake cut by 60-70% but because we are eating it as separate courses it is taking a longer and things feel much lighter and more pleasant. Into the bargain it is cheaper! I hope we can keep it up because it is much nicer and you get to spend a lot of time together as a family, even more than we did in the old days despite our sitting down to at least two meals a day together always.

More is definitely the new less.

Selective memory

Painting by PhylB
Painting, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
I'm not sure how I fall for it so often, maybe it's down to selective memory, or more likely selective memory loss...

It always starts the same. Léon is drawing inside in his big drawing book and his drawings are bright and beautiful. The next step is to mention the possibility of painting. Then the flow chart chooses one of two paths - either the weather is crap and I veto it, or it is dry and warm and I get this urge to be supermum and I positively encourage them to drag the poster paints outside. They suit up and sit quietly with pallets and brushes for the best part of half an hour on the patio painting some blue or green stripes on A4 sheets. Because they are quiet I finally drift off towards dishes or washing, knowing I'll be back in less than five minutes. I even shout as I'm leaving not to get the patio all paint. Then one of them starts - it's just the tips of their fingers at first, then whole hands - printing wildly but of course in that five minutes one of the three wee buggers always gets the idea to paint their feet too and as they hear my return, they leg it round to the side of the house to wash it off before they are caught - leaving a trail of footprints in green and blue right round the house.

I then spend the next half hour with a broom, a bottle of Fairy and a bottle of bleach, cursing my selective memory... until the next time, of course!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pretty guys

DSC_0678 by PhylB
DSC_0678, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

The guys wanted to wear their best clothes for Ally's birthday dinner the other day. They looked so pretty in the summer sun and Léon just looked so proud of his little sisters.

My sweet peas...

Fennel wasps

You can hardly move past our herb patch at the moment for bees. There are several on each flower with the oregano, sage and edible blue salad flowers being definite favourites.


Walking past the herbs, Lots commented a couple of days ago that she was concerned by the number of wasps but I let it in one ear and out the other assuming she was mistaking bees for wasps.

A day later however, I passed it and noticed she was right. While the majority of the herbs were knee-deep in bees, the fennel flowers were exclusively populated by common wasps. A quick check on the Internet led to the discovery that fennel is a firm wasp favourite so given its proximity to my kids' sandpit I have now been out with gardening gloves and secateurs and have slowly (and as calmly as possible) chopped every single fennel flower into my compost bin, shaking at least three wasps off each as I went along - without a single sting!

Fennel wasps by PhylB
Fennel wasps, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.

I'll be keeping my eye on that one from now on though!

Happy Meals



Sometimes it doesn't hurt to give in... My kids told us they felt a bit like freaks. Unlike their contemporaries McDonalds (I actually had to check whether it is McDonalds or MacDonalds as I typed this sentence! How sad is that?!) isn't one of their staples. I think I've personally been three times in my life but my youngest two had never been and Léon and Lots have only been with school friends. (Marcel must have been but he's on holiday so I can't verify that!) Anyway Anna had taken to bursting into tears and saying she was the only p2 who didn't know what a Happy Meal was so Thomas decided that despite the fact that he could cook something much tastier for the money, there are times in life where you have to give in and let your kids be kids. So down we went to Thornliebank. Once inside we got extremely funny looks. You see apparently when you walk in with kids aged 7, 5 and 3 (Lots wasn't with us) you are meant to know what you want to order and do so immediately rather than spending ten minutes standing at the wall reading the options and explaining to your kids what is on offer. I swear we'd have been less noticeable wearing flashing neon 'freak' signs! Eventually we opted for one fish, one chicken and one burger happy meal and they ate it happily while playing with their free smurfs. A toy in a dinner box is a bit of a strange concept to kids from a home with a strict 'No toys at the table' rule but what the hell - let's break all the habits of a lifetime in one go!

We're now back home and I am tempted to make real food (I had one burger - it was nothing-flavoured but inoffensive in a 'I could eat this once a decade if I have to' kind of way!)

It wasn't quite wild garlic risotto but now the kids are happy at least and we can probably get away with not doing it again for another five years if we're lucky.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Growing up


It seems somehow appropriate that this should fall out of one of my old books this week of all weeks. It gives such a stark reminder of the fleeting nature of childhood. Look at his tiny hand beside mine and yet in the last two weeks he's taken many steps towards adulthood...

Thirteen days ago he legally became a man - he can get married now, live alone, have sex legally and so on.

Three days ago he took his first important step towards his future. Adding to the one Intermediate 2 exam he passed with full marks at the tender age of 13 (this is an exam aimed at 15-16 year olds), he got a full house this week - all his other Intermediate 2s at A grade too and of course the one that matters - his first Higher, again a year before the rest of his school (and the other kids in Scotland) - another A grade. With eight Int 2s and one Higher at the end of his 4th year that makes him top of his year so I can't complain about that, can I? Coming top of the year in one of Scotland's best performing schools is the best you can ask for. Given the last year has seen, amongst other things, his father, his grandmother, his aunt and his uncle abandon him just weeks after his beloved grandfather lost his two-year long battle against cancer, he could have been forgiven had he lost his focus, but instead it simply made him more determined to rise above things.

Three days ago too he left on what I know will be the first of many trips. I know this because he has my wanderlust and nothing could keep me home once I discovered my freedom. So he's off in France alone with some school friends checking out Bordeaux. Without an international contract on his phone we have had silence now for three whole days. It's odd in this day and age to have no idea where your child is or what he's doing. We're not used to it any more. I guess this must be how it was for my parents back in the pre-mobile days!

Anyway, for all his steps towards adulthood, he will be my first baby till the day I die - even if he lives to 90! We have a wonderful relationship. We can talk about everything. I know what he's doing because he tells me and trusts me so I must be doing something right. And as he embarks on his most important year of schooling yet I know he will step up to the mark he has set himself because the trials life has thrown at him over the last few years have given him a maturity way beyond his years. He knows I love him and I am as proud as I can be. And whatever steps he takes in life I will be there to hold his hand.



Sunday, August 04, 2013

NTS and Historic Scotland

I've been NTS member for as long as I can remember and I definitely think it gives value for money but yesterday I decided to join Historic Scotland - after all one set of entrance tickets for a venue costs almost the same for a family this size as an annual membership! I've long ranted that many venues - such as cinemas, the science centre, safari parks, zoos etc like to penalise large families. After all, whether you have no kids or five, you still only have two adult salaries to support them. Often so-called family tickets are on offer but they like to define a family as one adult with three kids or two with two. (Are you simply more likely to be divorced once you have three?!) Anyway, one of the things I liked about NTS all these years is that they define a family as (one or) two plus four so paying one extra in is not prohibitive but yesterday Historic Scotland jumped right up to the top of my favourite list. A family is either one adult with all their kids or two adults with all their kids! What a breath of fresh air. I am allowed to take my kids into Stirling Castle without having to say sorry, we have to leave half of you at home. (As it happened Marcel was out anyway yesterday). So they are getting an even bigger thumbs up from me for acknowledging that my kids deserve to have a fun day out like anyone else. Thanks!

No more fun for little hamsters

Fun for little hamsters by PhylB
Fun for little hamsters, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
We've just had the most stressful forty minutes of pet-parenting since we brought little Rosie home just three months ago.

As we often do around midnight, we let her out to explore in her ball. Thomas and I were looking at photos from our trip to Stirling castle when all went quiet. She must have undone the lid and got out her ball. Thomas wandered through and found the open ball in the living room. This is only the second time she's ever escaped and the first she came in and told us! So for five minutes we search with handfuls of food till suddenly I came face to face with her in the living room. She was happily but quietly exploring. She walked by me and into the bathroom so I pointed her out and returned to bed expecting Thomas to scoop her up. Of course, because she was just calmly sniffing around he didn't rush her so as not to frighten her, carrying on his conversation with me and suddenly she was nowhere to be seen. Had she nipped past him? Fifteen frantic minutes led to the front of the bath being removed and the water pipes moving from the hole they disappeared into. We worked out she'd got under the floor but we didn't know if the drop beneath the pipes was 5cm or 50cm. I tried to coax her out with dried food then cucumber and she was desperately trying to grab it to pull herself out. Next a stick was brought in but she couldn't grip that either. Then it stopped moving and everything went silent. OMFG. Suddenly I noticed the pipes behind the wash hand basin moving. I could see her nose but the hole was too small. Fortunately the piping was soft plastic so I squeezed it as flat as I could just long enough for her to heave herself through the tiny gap, a bit dusty, a bit panicked and she didn't even object when Thomas grabbed her round the waist and picked her up. She's now safely back in her cage having a long wash and looking very relieved after her ordeal. I don't think I'll be mentioning it to the kids. I'm still trying to imagine if she'd got stuck there permanently.

That was so stressful. I think we're all too attached to our wee hamster to have her starve to death trapped under the bathroom floor.