Sunday, April 27, 2014


While watching a documentary about the history of Scotland in the year 980 last night Anna asked: 'Were you alive then, mum?' Thanks, Anna!

Maybe I'm doing something right

Sometimes the smallest comments can blow you away. That's one reason you can't blink for a minute as a parent. If you let your mind wander, you miss the gems that reassure you that you must be doing something right.

Marcel will be 17 in a few months, Charlotte is two years and five months younger. By all accounts they should be at that very age where they can barely stand the sight of each other.

Instead they often return from a friend's house puzzled by their friend's conduct towards a younger or older sibling - the snide comments, the ignoring, the pushing, poking, and all the petty one-upmanship.

My two have a solidarity that is wonderful to watch. Of course, it was in part borne out of watching out for each other at their father's house when they still had a relationship with him. They only had each other to talk to about their experiences there and that meant dropping the sibling rivalry. Still two years have passed since that issue was resolved and their bond has become closer, not weaker. They are often found laughing together. Marcel advises Lots on high school etiquette, on studies and just generally gets joy from her company. And she listens to him, trusting. She cares how he's doing and strives to emulate him and his achievements. Because it was Charlotte who ultimately solved the issue of their father, there is a great deal of respect from Marcel towards her. He defers to her in a way that underlines his gratitude and a certain awe in her silent strength of character. It isn't something you often see from older to younger - not when they are as young as this. They've probably been through a bit more than many of their contemporaries with our divorce, the breakdown in the relationship with their other family and my dad's long illness and those things have made them closer than teenage siblings often are.

So what inspired this? Charlotte came in yesterday with a form from school. She cast it nonchalantly onto the dining table muttering that they were running a French school trip to Paris next summer but at nearly £700 she had already worked out that there would be no point in discussing it. When you are self-employed and have five kids £700 is more like the annual family holiday budget, than the school trip budget. Desperately sad, as I always am to deny them what would be lifelong and wonderful memories, I started to agree with her when Marcel looked up from his dinner and said, completely genuinely 'If there's anything I can do to help - I could, like, give her all my earnings from my job for a month or something if that'd help?' How many 16 year old boys would work every Monday, Wednesday, Friday night and every Sunday morning from 5am in a shop and then offer to give up all their earnings to try to pay for their 14 year old sister to go on a school trip - no strings attached? His generosity, his selflessness and his love just blew me away. Of course, it might not get her to Paris, but it melted my heart a little, that's for sure.

I am one proud mummy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Logic that's hard to argue with

They've been back at school two days now. They aren't overly happy to be getting up at 8am again and consequently breakfast is a constant argument: who should get bowls, spoons, cereal, who's had too much milk, who can get dressed quickest - whine, whine, grump, moan for a solid half hour. Amaia just sits shell-shocked, looking exhausted, while these two battle it out to the death. Tired myself this morning, I shouted at them to stop arguing.

Me: 'Will you two just all stop arguing and get dressed NOOOOW!'
Anna: 'It's your fault we argue, mum!'
I quickly ran a search in my head of my own behaviour to work out if I was too grumpy, shouty or argumentative myself, but before I'd analysed all the data she elaborated: 'You had us - if you hadn't had us, we couldn't argue!'

Well that's a bit drastic, if technically true...

A wicked sense of humour

So Charlotte, Amaia and I went shopping in Asda for dinner. Charlotte was in her school uniform, Amaia in normal clothes. Charlotte goes to the local school so everyone knows the uniform. Moreover the school has a colour-coding system of ties to show where in the school a child is - red ties for 12-14 year olds, blue ties for 15 and 16 year olds, black for 17 and 18 year olds. Those whose kids attend the school are obviously aware of this. I had to go to the Internet order pick-up desk for a skirt I'd ordered Amaia so I gave Lots the shopping list and Amaia opted to go with her. I'm not sure what got into Amaia's head but Charlotte said that every time they stopped to pick something up and there were other shoppers nearby Amaia turned to her in a very loud voice and called her 'mum!' 'Mum, can we get crisps?', 'What's for dinner, mum?' Lots was affronted! She said she's never had as many dirty looks in her life! Wee besom!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My first car

With Marcel reaching 17 this summer, he's started talking about saving up for driving lessons, a car and insurance. Many of his better-off friends will be given a car but rather than being down in the dumps at that prospect, Marcel just sees that as another challenge. And obviously given he's just worked enough in the corner shop to pay for a trip to India and a few other outings this summer, that possibility isn't as far-fetched as it could be (well if you ignore the potential insurance quotes anyway!)

So we got onto the topic of first cars. Somehow Marcel had managed to miss all references to my first car over the years so I hunted through some old photos till I found one of it. It was a 1988 Fiat 126. He looked surprised that something that small could actually get you anywhere. When I pointed out that Linda, Gillian, Shona, Sheina and I had been on many day trips to the coast and the likes in that little chuggy, he nearly fell off his seat in surprise.

I have fond memories of a trip to Edinburgh once: I had noticed in the handbook that its top speed was 68mph so with a tailwind on the M8 we'd tried our hardest to break the 70mph barrier - ambitions were small back then!

There was the time I had taken it to Mull on holiday with my then French boyfriend. We'd phoned ahead and booked into a bed and breakfast calling ourselves Miss De Beauvoir and Mr Sartre and they hadn't seemed to get the allusion! We drove onto the ferry, or rather we tried to but the chuggy got stuck as it was too little to drive on. Four men had had to carry it on rather than leaving it wobbling on the on-ramp - how embarrassing!

And finally in the early years in Collins, a German colleague asked me for a lift into town as his car had broken down. I'm not sure he'd have asked, if he'd seen what I drove. He was about 6'8" and I had serious trouble getting him in and out. I thought at one point I might have to drive with the sunroof open!

 These days I may be seen more often than not in my big seven-seater people carrier, but to be honest I will always be a chuggy owner at heart. One day, when all the kids have left home, the economy permitting, I'm going to buy myself a new Fiat 500!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Egg obsessed

For the past six or seven years Thomas has been obsessed with making the perfect Easter egg. I can only assume this is a hang-up from his childhood (with German aunts and uncles) rather than a new-found religious streak...

At first he banged his head up against the fact that the UK has become an almost exclusively brown egg country and brown eggs just don't colour. One year we did get six white eggs off our dear doctor (who has a home farm) but beyond that the eggs were the first hurdle.

After that the colouring of his childhood seemed to be unavailable because of all these colouring regulations these days so the first few years saw brown eggs dyed browner and that wasn't very appealing.

Then we started shopping more in ethnic supermarkets and it came to our attention a year ago that Poles love white eggs. So off he went down to Thornliebank and returned hopping and skipping (carefully) with two dozen white beauties from the Polish supermarket.

Added to that the complex plan whereby he'd ordered German Easter egg colouring six months ago, had it delivered to my friend in Cologne and had her drive it back at Xmas - bingo - everything finally fell into place for our first ever brightly-coloured Easter eggs.

It was such a success I had better order next year's already.

I did feel sorry for his other Danish expat friend who had had the same problem. Having not discovered the Polish option, she had forked out for Waitrose's most extortionate pale duck eggs. With no decent colouring to be had she tried boiling them with beetroot in an attempt at achieving pink eggs, only to find out that expensive duck eggs mixed with beetroot gives exactly the same shade of brown as Asda smartprice eggs. I reckon she'll be going down the route next year too.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sometimes it is the innocent conversations that teach you the most.

I was driving into town yesterday with four of the five kids in the car. Charlotte was in the front so the soundtrack from Tangled was chosen to be the in-car entertainment for the trip. We'd just listened all the way through both Mother knows best and the reprise, sung by the old witch Mother Gothel and I innocently commented that she was a bit of a bitch. Still singing along happily and innocently Charlotte stated, quite calmly and unmoved 'Yeah, she always reminds me of papa'. I quietly left her to elaborate. She commented on the way she undermines Rapunzel, the way she builds her confidence and knocks it down in the one sentence, her paranoid fluctuations between loving and downright nasty, her condescending attitude, her mad possessive steak and finally the glee she takes in telling her no one will want her.

Often when I hear how my kids talk about their father, I am shocked that he allowed their relationship to deteriorate to that level. Nothing should have been more important to him than them but by allowing his own madness to become more important than them, he lost them somewhere along the way. I would be devastated if this sort of song reminded my kids of me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Maternal instinct

We were discussing the differences between boys and girls tonight in the car on the way to the swimming pool and Léon decided he was more than pleased to be a boy as he didn't really fancy any of that giving birth nonsense. Anna seemed more upbeat though: 'I definitely want to be a mum when I grow up' she announced - I was about to comment on the fact that she always seems to love babies when she elaborated, cackling like an old witch: 'I want little people I can use as my slaves, who can do all my cleaning and tidying up'. Patently I must be doing something wrong on the mothering front.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Money madness

I have no idea what made England decide to go down this silly road - they certainly weren't going with the flow, nor do I have any doubt that it will need rethinking once it becomes patently obvious that the majority of loans will never be repaid but given my children are in the 'guinea pig' age-group, attempting to avoid Scotland being forced into introducing this (reduced block grants and all that) will be top of my list of reasons for voting 'yes' this September...

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Dream bedrooms

I was driving the kids to school the other day when they started discussing their ideal bedrooms.

Léon's taken to discussing how he'd like his room to look on a daily basis recently. He's had to share a room with the girls since the fifth bedroom became our home office a few years back and he's now getting to an age where he's desperate for his own space. So it started with him asking if we'd consider converting the loft space above Charlotte's room and the home office into two bedrooms for him and Anna, leaving Amaia in the big room they currently share. I agreed that I was happy to do that as soon as I won the lotto, not mentioning I didn't actually play lotto... so they started to describe their dream rooms.

Anna was going to have a pale blue room with dark blue hearts all over the walls and 'I love 1D' written all round the wall just above the skirting in red.

Amaia asked me to paint Mr Men on her walls. That'd be easy as I'd done that once before in a previous house. (see above)

Then Léon told me his dream room was dark blue with life-sized Gandalfs painted on the walls. How creepy would that be?! I'm suddenly very glad he hasn't a hope in hell of getting a room any time soon!