Sunday, December 31, 2017

Last reflections before 2018

I am utterly dreading 2018. I wish there was some huge rock I could crawl under and hide for a year or even two. I can't understate the level of horror this new year fills me with.

Before us lies the biggest decision of our life, and also of our children's lives, and it is not something we can influence in any way. Over the next few months it will become clear whether we get to continue with the life we have built up here, in a house that is already 65% paid off, where the third of our kids is already in high school, where my two oldest have already reached university (yes, I know Charlotte hasn't started yet, but with 6 A Highers, I doubt she'll be getting straight rejections from UCAS this spring). I get to find out if my my husband can continue working as a consultant in areas of linguistics where he has built up a wealth of knowledge and a name for himself in Scotland. We get to find out if our company, which has been running for nine years, will make it to ten...

I am the problem, not the other six. The other six are free to come and go as they please across Europe, they will still be EU citizens at the end of 2019; I am the only one who has had their freedom to move voted away and so it is my clock that is ticking. If we want to stay together as a family and give the kids a future in a country that isn't considering skidding off the economic rails, I have to get out by March 2019 unless things take a dramatic turn for the better.

I stupidly assumed it would have been clear by now and the government's intentions would be obvious, but a more clueless government, I have not seen in my lifetime. As recently as last month May's government signed up to not creating a border in Ireland, not creating a border in the Irish sea while emphasising that they would indeed leave the internal market and customs union. I don't know if they are incompetent or just downright liars but the first two promises make the third and fourth impossible.

So as we move towards midnight, I won't find leaving 2017 behind particularly difficult. Every day we have woken up in the stressful limbo that only those of us in a mixed EU/UK marriage know. We don't think about Brexit on bad days, or when something big is in the headlines; we have lived and breathed it every minute of every tiring day since June 2016 and we are desperate to take back some control of our lives, rather than leaving everything to the whims of the right-wing press and the most incompetent Tory government every to head up Westminster.

Sadly, I can't say I have any faith that 2018 will be any better but at least at the end of next year I may have more of a clue about where our futures lie and whether my family gets to stay together or is forced apart in the short term at least.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Life's little pleasures


When all your kids are old enough to build their own snowmen, you can take the photos and drink Glühwein in the garden - class.






Sunday, December 24, 2017

Funny eyes


Léon has a strange mix of blue, green, yellow and grey in his eyes. It is often hard to put your finger on what colour they are, and they simply often reflect his clothing... he has blue eyes when he is wearing a blue t-shirt, green, when he's wearing green, so for fun I decided to put a photo of him through the photoshop filter that removes all except a specific colour from a photo - I chose blue. Interestingly, it seems the bottom half of his eyes are predominantly blue, but the top two halves have come out in grey so they must be green or grey!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

That hang-up again

I've mentioned it on occasion over the years - that hang-up of mine, namely being called Phyllis... I think in my most recent rant I was finally coming to accept that as I grew older, greyer and frumpier, I would maybe start to suit my Phyllisness, and come to be at ease with it, but I hadn't factored in a new issue that would strike me. It is one that has always been there, but that is only dawning on me now.

I was named Phyllis because I was born on 4/2/68 and my gran had died of cancer on 30/1/68. At her death my granny was exactly 50 years, six months and one day old. Next year on 5/8/18, I will turn 50 years, six months and one day old... and that chills me. Strange; I've never been a superstitious person, but as Phyllis Buchanan the 2nd, I feel ill at ease with it all the same. Will Phyllis Buchanan the 2nd be a luckier Phyllis? a longer-lived Phyllis? Will she break the curse of Phyllisness?

I have a sneaking suspicion the next eight months and sixteen days are going to take a long time to get through, and I may be a bit touchy, irritable and perhaps a tad over-sensitive... I may consider coming back out to play on August 6th (if I make it through till then), but in the meantime, bear with me as I question every ache or pain I suffer in a slightly hysterical manner. (I've got five kids! I'm needed on this planet!)

It really is no fun being a replacement person for a dead one...

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Weather report, school-style

Last time p6 had an assembly for the parents something big was going on. There was a good deal of whispering and giggling for the best part of a week beforehand but they kept telling us that the project 6A had been working on about natural disasters was top-secret! When we were finally let in on the game, it was awfully cute! Here, thanks to the school twitter account, is Anna's class's natural disaster presentation!

Xmas songs in Silverburn

Anna and her choir performing in Silverburn on Monday (taken from the school tweet)for anyone who missed her.




Family planning


Amaia's sensible approach to future family planning, over breakfast this morning:

Amaia: When I grow up, if I decide I want to be a teacher, I am going to have a few kids. I think it is important if you decide to be a teacher that you fully understand children...
Me: And if you decide you don't want to be a teacher?
Amaia: Well, in that case I'm definitely not having any. They wear nappies, mum, don't you know?!

...No, I never noticed, pet...

Pants

Thomas has been reading his grandfather's memoirs again and was lamenting the fact that he didn't make much mention of his many siblings or their personalities. Maybe that was in case they happened upon them, as they were all alive at the point he was writing them. That got us on to discussing what might be of interest to descendants, were we to write about our own lives.

Thomas was saying it would be interesting to tell people about how fashions have changed over our lifetimes. An obvious example, he cited, was ties. When he moved to Scotland, he was expected to wear a tie to work, a few years later he was expected to keep one in his desk in case of outside visitors but in general management went without, and now they don't expect anyone to wear ties in any of his workplaces, no matter the meeting.

I thought from a Scottish perspective, I could mention the evolution of the school uniform. When I was a child, skirts were compulsory in my area. Come rain, shine or snow, nothing allowed a girl to don a pair of trousers. I remember the year our school heating system broke down (winter of '79 or '80), wearing skinny jeans (leggings hadn't been invented yet), with a slightly-too-long skirt and long woolly hockey socks on top, so no one would discover I was breaking school rules. My legs were a lumpy mess but I was deliciously warm for the first time at high school! Fortunately, when the first immigrant girls arrived from Pakistan, they fought the trouser rule on religious grounds, the school gave in and then found they couldn't allow trousers only on religious grounds, so trousers became an option. It was after I'd left, but at least I knew my daughters wouldn't be hiding jeans under socks at some future date.

The item of dress, however, that would probably shock my offspring the most was 'navy blue gym pants'! This was a compulsory item of clothing. Everyone wore blue pants to school every day (unless you could actually remember when you had PE lessons) because PE forced you to strip to your pants. Given all the underage '70s sex scandals that have been coming out in the press over the last few years, you have to wonder who ever thought it was a good idea for all girls aged 4-12 to prance about in these and a t-shirt as they vaulted over horses and climbed wall bars - it must have been a paedophile paradise! Boys, as far as I remember, wore shorts, only girls were forced to do PE in underwear! Given that many girls start their period before leaving primary, it is quite shocking to think back on. I certainly never particularly liked the big, scratchy blue pants and I'm thrilled my own daughters now get to wear shorts.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Santa Dash fun





















Glasgow holds an annual 'Santa Dash' every December. It's on a Sunday morning at 10am - and it isn't just any Sunday, it's the coldest darkest Sunday of the year. Sunday is the only day we can have a lie-in because of school and violin. Every year I suggest going along (not even necessarily running or walking it, even spectating, and every year everyone in the family just looks at me as if I've asked them to poke rusty nails in their eyes! I'm sure my daddy would have come along with his camera if he'd still been here - he liked mornings and photo shoots.

Anyway, last Saturday as always I came out with my nonchalant 'Santa Dash is on tomorrow morning, we'd need to get up at 9. Who wants to come?' Thomas already had his get-out - he's been in bed on steroids and antibiotics for a week now with a bad chest infection, Marcel was home for the weekend but claimed a dissertation that happens to be part of his final degree was more important, Charlotte didn't even bother to reply, she just rolled her eyes, the girls said they'd rather sleep... Then suddenly Léon volunteered! He has a broken arm at the moment so instead of sleeping long as he usually does on Sundays, the pain has been wakening him up so he figured he might as well come along!

I got up, my phone read -7 degrees, I opened the curtains and saw nothing - freezing fog so thick I couldn't see the garden bench. Léon came down, at that point the girls came down too, having had a change of heart so the four of us went in and watched 8000 Santas, half a dozen elves, snowmen and reindeer braving the Glasgow weather for a good cause. And it looks like next year I may have to come again, as they've all asked to take part next time. 😀 Maybe then the fog will be less thick so you'll be able to see more of the Santas stretching into the distance!

And here are the photos to prove what fun it was!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Sweet Anna



Anna's choir is singing in shopping centres and at school show performance nights over the next two weeks. She's learnt a dozen Christmas songs, including the one above (which is actually called 'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, rather than alot like Christmas - hee hee - just check out my favourite point of reference on the 'alot'...) 

Anyway, taking her to bed the other night, she asked if she could sing me it, which she did until she got to the line 'And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again!' (at 1:01). She stopped, as if realising what it implied for the first time ever, lip trembling and spat out 'Omg, is that true?' I assured her it wasn't, and I meant it. I never long for my kids to go back to school after holidays; yes, I long for an evening off occasionally, or a week where evenings are not spent predominantly on homework, but they are only little once, and having a 20 year old too, I know that all too soon, 'Mom and dad' will be left home alone with their memories, while the kids are somewhere new making their own lives, so no, I genuinely don't wish for school to start again (especially not on a dark, freezing scrape-the-car Scottish January morning!)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

My hamster-wheel existence



8-30 Take 3,4,5 to school, running late and ranting, return home.
10-15 School phones to say Léon is wanting to come home as he feels under the weather - cold, throbbing broken arm, temperature. Pick him up, return home. Get a long and philosophical conversation about how he wants to grow up to be a phonetician (is that normal when you are 12?!)
10-45 Charlotte needs dropped in Glasgow to sit her LNAT exam, return home, with Léon recounting more about phonetics in my ear while I drive.
11-15 Primary open day for an hour: cut, glue, glitter, colour in, melt in the heat of two overcrowded classrooms, return home.
1-00 Gulp down some leftover chilli, then work for one hour uninterrupted 🎆(glued Léon in front of a Danish movie).
2-30 Pick Charlotte up from train after LNAT, return home. Get a blow by blow account of the exam  which was much harder than all practice runs, rant, rant, rant.
3-00 Pick up Anna from school, return home. Get a blow by blow account of p6 activities and how thrilling and wonderful everything about December is.
4-00 Pick up Amaia from baking club, return home. Get a blow by blow account of baking club and how she'll just 'die' if she doesn't get into it again next term, especially with her best friends Ameya and Sophie.
5-09 Drink a (cold) cup of coffee I've been trying to reach for over an hour.

I'm half waiting on Marcel to phone and say he has a sudden desire to visit the family at short notice and needs picking up on the moon or somewhere even less convenient.

I refuse to go shopping for dinner - if we have no food, we're not eating. So there!😝

And I wonder why I never get time for the day job! I'm meant to do at least 5 hours Italian today. I need a 30hr day. Sigh

Thought-provoking

Friday, December 01, 2017

Fractured wrist


I knew as I reached the top of the hill (that the high school stands on) that something was amiss. Léon and Charlotte were standing by the roadside as they always do on a Friday, waiting for me. They were smiling, talking and joking together but I noticed immediately that while Léon was only holding his schoolbag in his right hand, Charlotte was holding both her schoolbag and Léon's PE kit bag -- that's odd, I thought. I pulled up and they got in. 'Oh by the way mum, I think I've broken my arm', Léon joked. 'Seriously? What? When?' So then I got the proof once again that he is a bit of a space cadet...

The story seems to be that he was standing in the busy Maths corridor holding his phone to check a message, between classes (which Charlotte assures me you're not allowed to do!), when an s5 kid, who was rushing to class, tripped over his own shoe and went flying smack into Léon's arm and thumped him against a wall, quickly apologising and carrying on his way, as did Léon, who hadn't realised the enormity of what had just happened. When was this? 10am!!!! He said the pain kicked in half an hour later so he asked his PE teacher if he could be excused from his social dancing class and sit and watch, after that it didn't occur to him to go to the medical room, have anyone call me or even ask a teacher what the best plan of action was... It was my left hand and I'm right handed so I didn't think breaking your arm was a reason to ask to go home! Give me strength!

So I dropped off the girls and went to the Vicky where they confirmed he had a 'buckle fracture' which would probably take three weeks to heal.

At first his main worry was that they might make him sit out social dancing and he didn't want to miss the opportunity to 'get the girls' sympathy!' (like brother, like brother 😉). It turns out they are trialling putting splints rather than plaster casts on them as they are short lived and not too dire, but I expect that isn't the best situation to be in with fifteen days to go to his orchestra Xmas performance - he'll be the first one-handed first violin in the junior orchestra's history - sigh. Mind you it apparently holds his wrist in 'waltz position' so he's pleased!

To cap it all, we don't even get the benefit of a long lie for the first time in five years of Saturday school when he misses his lesson tomorrow as it's the primary school winter gala day and Anna's choir is performing at that!

Cosy reading and baking pizza




Isn't this just the sweetest idea for a Friday afternoon in December? The p6 teachers decided to let the kids bring in pillows and blankets and build dens under their school desks, then they got to change into their onesies and read their books with their friends. Lovely to see (half of) Anna with three of her best friends Inishka, Marie-Liang,  and Akshara in this tweet from school.💜

After discovering the tweet of den day, I looked through this week's school tweets and found little Amaia at baking club making pizza too and really enjoying it. Cute!






New word

A great new word that I think will need to enter the general family vocab forthwith...

Amaia to Léon: 'Oh stop being sooo kiddish!' 🤣

Large families

It's funny how you become public property when you step outside the norm...

A friend (who also has five kids) posted this on Facebook today and I can really relate to it. Strangers have actually asked me every single one of these questions, unprompted - in the street, in a supermarket, at the school gate!! They did omit two extras that I've been asked; was it an accident? and were you having a midlife crisis? (and that was when I got pregnant with Léon (no 3) at a mere 37!!)

The one about daycare is actually the one I've been asked most often in recent years - well, to be honest it is usually phased something like: 'I've seen you at the school, you're a childminder, aren't you?' but that's the same idea, no?! Though you'd be surprised quite how often I've been asked if I'm Catholic or if I know what is causing them, no, seriously!

Anyway, for my friends with too many kids, enjoy... and for those with a normal family - this is what you missed out on!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

It didn't drive like that in my day!


When I came back from living in Italy in 1986, I was desperate for a Fiat 500 (as you may have guessed by now). They were too old to be readily available (in a decent state), yet too new to be collectors' items yet. The majority of them were beaten and bashed and in a complete state, so I decided that as I wanted to buy a newish (and reliable (that turned out to be a joke)) vehicle, I opted for a more sensible two-year-old Fiat 126.













It coughed and spluttered. It had a top speed of 68mph (110kph)... I managed 70 in it once, (fully-loaded, downhill with a tail wind, I think!) It had a 4 speed gear box and a manual choke. It had the engine in the boot and the boot in the bonnet (opening the opposite way to a normal bonnet, like the old Saabs did in their day). I loved it because it was my first car, but it definitely didn't drive like the one in that video! What fun I could have had if mine had had a souped-up engine like that one!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Parenting a space cadet

I sometimes wonder if you need the patience of a saint to be mother to a 12 year old boy, or maybe  just a good sense of humour. I made chilli con carne yesterday and then popped out to pick Léon up from debating at school at six. On my way home I realised I needed some shopping so told him the only way dinner could be ready for seven was if I dropped him at home and popped straight to Aldi for 15 minutes. He cooks dinner at least once a week so it wasn't that he isn't capable in the kitchen, he's just lacking somewhat in the memory-span department. I emphasised how important it was to the point where he impressed me by taking out his phone and writing himself a note on it. The instructions weren't hard - Put four portions of rice in the rice cooker and press on, then relight the gas under the chilli, but quite low just to keep it warm. What could possibly go wrong? I dropped him at 6:10 and was back by 6:30. I walked in. The chilli was on (a little too high but on at least). The rice was in the rice cooker, with water (no salt), plugged in but no lights on. Léon, Anna and Amaia were happily microwaving three hot chocolates complete with mini-marshmallows, all jolly and happy. 'What was the most important thing I asked you to do, the only thing I absolutely needed you to do?' I asked 'Put on the rice', he replied proudly. 'And is it on?' I asked more tentatively... 'Well it's in the rice cooker, oh it's not on! - one out of two isn't bad, is it?' We ate half an hour late! But hey, at least they had hot chocolate!



Fast forward a few hours. After violin practice, he was last seen heading to his room with his violin carefully strapped on his back, pity he forgot to close the case, and thank goodness for that tiny little Velcro strap round its neck. He spent most of this evening trying to track down the neck rest for it which had dropped out the case as it wasn't Velcroed down... turned out to be in the cupboard with the school juices, where it had dropped out when he had been making his lunch last night while apparently wearing his violin.

Wonder what he'll forget tomorrow!




Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Living in the mad zone

With each passing day it puzzles me more and more why any EU nationals want to apply for PR (permanent residence) and/or UK citizenship. This week alone we have lost the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, not that you would know it if you went on the BBC front page news summary; they've not bothered to report it, or if they have, it is so many layers down, you'll only find it if you already know it's there. Those who are reporting it are headlining with the actual number of posts lost in each agency rather than pointing out that international bodies mean international visitors which means hotel rooms, restaurant places, international schools and a whole host of knock-on effects.

And last night in the Commons they decided that one of the highlights of Brexit means not only can we scrap human rights but animals can be voted to have no consciousness of pain etc either. FFS. Who still wants to live here? It's a basket case country heading for the toilet quickly. With each passing hour, I feel more clearly that this is not the kind of country I want to bring my kids up in. I am beyond disgusted by everything the Tory government stands for and if this continues, I will have no option but to leave with the rest of my EU family.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

If you do something long enough, someone will notice!


It's not often quote of the day goes to one of the biggies; they've long grown out of the cute stage. But maybe we are entering a more perceptive zone...

Suddenly, without warning, yesterday Charlotte came out with 'Oh my god, I just realized what you do, mum!' At first I figured she meant lexicography, or translating, copy-editing or even the more tedious proof-reading, but no she wasn't talking work!

It was dark, with freezing drizzle and everyone was snapping at each other and generally winding, she elaborated 'You get up to take us to school, even on days when you don't have to work first thing!' It's quite perceptive really; I've only been doing it since 1997 (with an end-date of 2028 now almost in sight)!

I think she'd been in denial till now! And her closing remark? 'And I thought I wanted kids...'

Doesn't look like I'm going to be a granny any time soon!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A weird bunch















My kids were walking down the street together in Edinburgh the other week. Thomas and I were far enough behind that we didn't look like we were together. It suddenly occurred to me that you don't see groups like that walking about. To an outsider, they must look quite a curious bunch. They obviously aren't a group of teenage friends, they can't be students or schoolchildren either, and they definitely aren't a couple with kids. They don't fit into any known mould really and people don't really expect families of five kids, let alone and age spread of 7-20. They are very cute to observe together though!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Surreal video

I was procrastinating the other day before a job when I decided to take a trip down memory lane. Obviously in my youth, you stuck on a cassette, you didn't have music videos on demand. I started looking on Youtube at the things I listened to as a child and found all sorts of amazing footage that was never available to us as kids. This Abba video from '74 definitely stood out as the weirdest one I came across. Maybe I'll set myself the task of finding myself a surreal video a week from now on to give me a laugh.

Rotting crabs

Why don't people use crab apples in Scotland? There are so many trees around where we live and many different varieties as you can see in the pictures below, that Thomas and I collect enough to make jam for the year, every year. So many trees end up looking like this one!





Are we the only apple jelly makers in Newton Mearns?




Glasgow wedding suite

I'm sad they decided to sell the Glasgow registry office not long after Thomas and I got married in it. It felt like the right place to marry and was stunning as well. It's a shame we can't go back there to share others' happy days, or even show it to Amaia who was born after our wedding.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween

This year's ludicrous haul - thank goodness I only let the out alone for 90 minutes or they could have developed full-blown diabetes before they got home!


EU/UK families and Brexit

This is a must-read for anyone who doesn't grasp the complexities of Brexit for mixed UK/EU families.

It's almost laughable to admit that this MSP's situation is so much less complicated than my own that I almost envy her, though of course, I feel nothing but solidarity.

We are in exactly the same situation but a decade further on so it's much more complex. I have the issue of kids half way through the Scottish school system - should I move my 12 year old s1 to a country where he speaks the language (Danish) but has never learned to read it properly and hope he does well enough to catch up before uni entrance exams? Should I drag out primary kids, leaving behind their best friends? Should I leave behind my 17 year old who is in s6 and had planned to go to uni next summer living at home with us (and studied so hard last year to get her six A Highers to get in?), should I leave behind my Scottish mum who's had a stroke and lives alone since my dad died? Should I sell the house I've been paying for for 12 years? What do I do with our jobs, cars, possessions? I'm about to be 50 and starting over from scratch again (given I already started over in my mid-30s when I got divorced) is such an unappealing mountain to climb... I've been paying a mortgage now since 1993, am I meant to start again and pay forever?

Brexit is an absolute disaster for families like ours.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Diversity, but not so diverse

I grew up in the 70s in Scotland attending a 'non-denominational' primary school in a suburb of Glasgow. For non-denominational in Glasgow in the 70s, read Protestant (with maybe one Jewish kid per class). Catholics went to Catholic schools, Muslims and Hindus hadn't got as far as the suburbs so non-denominational meant Church of Scotland religious. Every day started with us all having to stand, bow our heads, clasp our hands and recite the school prayer. I can't tell you now the words of it, even though I was made to recite it every school day for six years. I know it had been written for the school because we definitely mentioned the school by name in it, but for the most part my early school days were marked by me standing with my eyes tightly shut, squirming and out of place, wanting to run away or scream because I felt like I had landed on an alien planet.

Every assembly was conducted by the local CofS minister, a sickly sweet, condescending man who oozed insincerity (to me anyway), most people seemed to love him. There again most people knew him from the weekends, and I didn't.

We were often read bible stories by the scary head mistress too. These made me feel less ill at ease because the stories themselves were interesting enough, but still, I always feared that the scary Mrs Scott would find me out. What would she find out? That I was the freak in the class, the one child who was being raised, unchristened and in an atheist household.

By about p5, the first Muslim and Hindu children has touched down and I often wondered if they felt like me - they had the same dirty secret, that they couldn't relate to all the Protestant prayer and worship, but I couldn't ask, without giving away my own secret.

As I reached upper primary, a quiet goody two shoes in general, I was really at odds with the religious parts of the curriculum. I remember wondering when I would be shouted at for not bowing for the morning prayer. Resolute, I stood there, straight-backed and with my eyes open, and the teacher stared me out. She could not let on she had seen me, without letting on that she too was unbowed and open-eyed. I remained silent during the Lord's prayer, I refused to let my brain parrot it as it was not who I was.

Things have come along a lot in Scotland since my childhood. Classes are mixed now - in my own kids' classes there are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and even the odd Catholic!! Instead of being made to pray, they now teach them about each different religion and its beliefs. Kids are taught in a sensitive manner that even if they have been told at home that their god is the true one, they should treat other religions with an equal degree of respect. They encourage curiosity about each other. It is all very nice and inclusive.

Last month all the kids in p6 in our school went on a school trip called 'Diversity day' - they spent a good number of hours discussing Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and they even went into the Bahá'í faith, but here's what I don't get, they never teach kids about atheism. Not only do they not go into it in detail, they don't even touch on its existence. Looking at recent figures for Scotland, atheists account 52% of the Scottish population, so why does no one ever tell school kids that it's actually ok to be from an atheist family? In the last 5 years I have been to four funerals, three were humanitarian/atheist, one was christian and I am not sure I can even remember the last time I attended a christian wedding in Scotland.

Three or four years ago Anna asked me what our family was because they'd been learning about religions in school. She was about 6 years old. I explained that daddy's parents were christian (Protestant) and mummy's were atheist and that our own family unit was also atheist. I explained what that meant and she felt happy that we too had a label just like all the others. She mentioned it to a boy in her class the next time the topic arose. The boy, from a Christian family, looked her straight between the eyes and announced that if she didn't believe in god, she would be sent to hell and burn for all eternity! Delightful child! There is no way that child would have said that to a Hindu or Muslim child because he had been taught to respect them, but apparently it is ok to treat atheist families with contempt as they are brushed under the carpet. Because atheists don't have specific festivals or places of worship, it is somehow felt that they are not worth mentioning, but that does a terrible injustice to those kids. Until we are lined up alongside all the other faiths, schools shouldn't claim to be teaching diversity, but instead religious diversity.

Anna had a really lovely day out with her classmates, came back wearing a bindi and proudly showing me her name in Arabic, but felt a little deflated too because, as she put it herself 'it was as if we didn't exist'.


The last moments of innocence

Anna's been researching John Muir (from 1838) for school. One of the first facts she found out was that he was one of eight children. Thinking this over and analysing too that her Großvater had twelve siblings, she commented:
'And I thought I had a lot of siblings! People definitely seemed to have lots more kids in the old days, mum, why was that?'
Hmmmm. I try to answer my kids in an honest, if age-appropriate manner, wherever possible... 
'Well Anna, back then they didn't really have any way of not having them.'
'How do you mean?'
'Well, you know how babies are made, right?'
'Yeah'
'So these days there are things you can do to not have babies. There are pills you can take or condoms for example'
'Sure, but why on earth would you need that?'
'Well, adults who love each other have sex, honey'
'Really, why on earth would they do that unless they wanted to have a kid?!'
'Emmm, well adults kinda find sex fun!'
'Wooooah! Really? I mean seriously???? Now, that's just plain weird!'

There is such a huge gap between ten year olds and high school kids! Hahahaha.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

Need for speed

Charlotte turned 17 in January and wanted to learn to drive immediately (not sure why given she hasn't a hope in hell of affording a car, but I guess I did the same at 17). 

In February she was too busy with prelims, March with oral exams, April and May with Highers, June with going to Nicaragua, July with going to Italy, August with settling back into school, so I figured it was off for this year... 

That was till she started asking about my availability on Thursday afternoons. I work from home so can move stuff about within reason. It turns out that Thursday afternoon is the only time she has free periods when she hasn't volunteered to be a teaching helper for the lower school. So yesterday she ordered herself a car (dual control for £11 for 2 hours). 

It's been a long time since I sat beside someone who has never ever been behind a wheel, the last time was possibly Derek in 1988! When Thomas learnt he had the basics and Marcel took some proper lessons, so there I was with my first millennium baby explaining 'that's the clutch, the brake, and the accelerator, this is the gear stick and that is the hand brake...' She surprised me with a few odd questions like 'are the three pedals in the same order in all cars?' Hahahaha - can you begin to imagine? 

But then she really threw me... I'm not much of a gamer; Candy Crush Soda on my smart phone for ten minutes at bed time is the extent of my gaming. She asked 'You press the brake to stop, right?' of course, then she followed up with 'and once it has come to a stop, if you press the brake again at the same time as putting the gearstick in reverse, you go backwards, right ?' WTAF?????? Sorry? Mind-blown! Well apparently on 'Need for Speed' (something on a PS3, I think), that's how you make your car reverse - the  L2 button (whatever that means!) Why on earth would you make a game that teaches kids that is how you drive a car? Are they insane???? She seemed a bit put out that she'd been misled! Kids today probably think they know how to fly a plane if they've got a flight simulation game 😜.

All in all it went well. She seemed to get the hang of hill starts fairly quickly, though I still need to get it through to her that you don't pull on the hand brake to stop 😂. But we definitely came top of the class that day... The other mum who hired a car with her 17 year old son at the same time as us returned it after just twenty minutes of the two hour hire, citing the fact that she'd got in such a big fight with him that he had pulled the car over and stomped off home leaving her to return it alone! She was last seen making her way to the pub, fuming 🤣.





Thursday, October 12, 2017

Such a sweet boy

Léon's school has organised an s3 Maths trip to NYC for the October week... I'm not sure how they got away with that one but well done to the Maths teachers for managing to come up with a reason for needing to go to New York; I don't suppose exotic school trips are usually too high up the list of perks when you're a Maths teacher!

Léon's Maths teacher seems to be one of the lucky ones who departed yesterday, which meant his class had no teacher today. (Their half term holiday started today so this only meant one day with a sub - (apparently these are called 'please-take ( teacher)s' in today's speak, as in 'We had a please-take today' - I do try to keep up with the lingo as best someone can at my age)).

Léon was moaning over dinner that she had not only left a seating plan of his class for the please-take, but that the seating plan had a photo beside each name. I asked why this was an issue. He told me he and his friend had had the idea to swap places and names for the day (like no kid in the world has ever done that before!) but that the seating plan had ruined their fun.

Before launching into an explanation of why this was a stupid idea (citing the example of when Andrew and Dylan had done that in Charlotte's first year class many moons ago, and the wrong one had ended up with a demerit against his name), I casually asked which friend he'd been plotting with. 'Ayaan Shaik', he replied! 'Ayaan Shaik and Léon Buchanan-Widmann?' I asked. 'Yeah!' came the reply. 'The teacher would have been able to tell, Léon', I pointed out. 'Well, I have no idea how', came the sweet reply, 'not if she hadn't had photos!' I love that at 12, he can't see what is glaringly obvious to me at 49. It gives me hope for his world, especially when we are currently living in such horrible times.

The hole in the middle


Here we all are in 1990. Young, though older than we look, Linda and I are 22, Shona, Sheina and Gillian are 23. That was a great day; we sat our Senior Honours Swedish exam and celebrated with fish suppers from the Philadelphia in Great Western road, eaten straight from the newspaper on the mangy, green carpet in Linda's great Glasgow Street party flat. The accompaniment was Lucozade from plastic cups, though I suspect we moved on to wine later in the evening. Uni was over, we were six weeks away from being able to write MA(Hons) after our names and we vowed to be friends forever. 

And we are, and will be, except we now have a gaping hole in our middle... We didn't know when this photo was taken that one of us was already more than half way through her life.

Sheina was the quiet one, so politely spoken. She was the lady in the group, the one who organised dinner parties for us when we were still arranging piss-ups. That's how she came across to others, but to us she had a wicked sense of humour, especially after a wine or two. If you wanted to get us all talking about our deepest and most intimate thoughts, Sheina was the one who could steer us on to the topic without us even noticing she'd taken us there. She made us laugh and cry. Sheina lacked the self-confidence to realise she was a beautiful person, but we all saw through that. Her death five years ago this week changed us forever. Our annual meet-ups became much more frequent. We see each other many times a year a now. We are a family and will always be there for each other. But there will always be a little unspoken hole at the centre of us all.



How to conker

Ever since I had kids, we've spent October in parks searching among the leaves for conkers... Early
on, when Marcel was two or three I found a tree hidden in a far corner of the Botanics that seemed to have escaped most of the passing schoolchildren so we were always guaranteed to get two or even three there. It was enough to play conkers with, well once at least.

Then I moved in with a Dane. Unlike Scots, Danes don't battle with conkers, they build animals (and more) from them (how civilised!) This posed a problem - try making several animals out of just three conkers. So conker season has always been a bit of a failure, until this year!!!

We went for a walk round a graveyard in September. Much to our surprise the trees had already started dropping their conkers and more to the point, it would appear kids hang about cemeteries much less than they hang in parks(!), so we had no competitors! We left all the damaged ones for the squirrels, but we still amassed a whole bag full. We'll be able to have a major conker animalfest next week when the kids are off for the October week and the rain inevitably leaves us housebound. Woo hoo.


 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Cool boots

Another little souvenir I'd have liked to have brought back from Amsterdam was a pair of boots. These caught my eye in a shop window and if I could have come up with any legitimate way of charging them on company expenses, I swear I'd have come home wearing them! Sadly, I think that would have been a hard one to explain to my accountant. 😥

Souvenirs for intellectual infants :-)


Playmobil and Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum have got together and come up with an adorable way of making art accessible to the tinier amongst us. Amaia was thrilled with her present from Holland but also interested to see the original and ask about it. Well done to them. At less than 5 Euros, I was pleasantly surprised too.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

EU life and Brexit

Where do we stand today, mum? How close are we to knowing whether we'll need to leave?




That's what I was asked this morning on the school run by my 11 year old. There was neither fear, nor excitement in his voice, just resignation as he spends another day playing the waiting game...

I expect Leave voters today fall into two categories; those who just want TM to get on with things and ignore all the media hype and expert warnings about imminent economic collapse, or those who feel they were lied to and misled and may have voted differently, had they known the truth.

I also imagine Remain voters, for the most part fall into two categories; those who are resigned to EU withdrawal and feel vaguely sad and those who go through periods of rage when they scream at Twitter and Facebook (or at the TV or radio) whenever the utter incompetence of the UK government is mentioned. These are probably still hoping against hope that sense will prevail and potentially bring down TM's government before all the EU doctors and uni professors leg it to the first available job on the continent, but in between times they get on with their daily lives, they go to work, they go shopping, they go see a movie or whatever.

But there is one further category; those who didn't vote at all. It wasn't that this third group were disinterested, or busy washing their hair that day. Ironically, those who didn't vote were the most affected by the whole thing. Those are the EU UK residents. This means my family and all of those millions of families like mine across the UK... over three million families to be precise. I voted of course, but my husband couldn't vote, he was disenfranchised. He's been here nearly two decades, he's the director of a UK company, he's the father of UK citizens, but he wasn't permitted a say on his family's future. This third group, unlike the first two, doesn't think about Brexit once a week, or even once a day. It doesn't even think about it every time TM or Boris or one of the others says something stupid. This third group breathes Brexit every minute of every day and has done since June 2016 and let me tell you, it's getting awfully tiring.

My husband's status will change, though no one knows what to. Currently the date for this is March 2019 - though that may be longer if a transition agreement is agreed, or shorter of course, if this crazy dictatorial clause whereby Brexit Day is decided by a government minister without consulting parliament (that the HoC voted for the other night) is fully accepted. The conundrum is this: the day he potentially loses his right to live in the UK coincides exactly with the day I lose my right to free movement and therefore my ability to leave the UK permanently with him. So suddenly there is potentially nowhere where a family like ours (and those other 3 million) can legally live together.

This means we've been placed in a situation where we must look at the current state of affairs and decide if it will be safe to stay here or not. And let me tell you - the shambles that is the UK negotiating team is not giving us much to work with at all. We somehow have to find out in advance that Thomas's rights won't change, despite the fact that we are now seeing on a daily basis that EU citizens are being turned down for loans, mortgages, rental agreements, jobs and more. This, of course, isn't legal (yet) but EU citizens are a risky client now so they are best avoided. My mortgage fixed rate is up for renewal in the summer of 2019. If EU citizens are deemed too risky, I will not be able to renew my mortgage (we will be 15 years into our mortgage at that point) as I cannot pay it alone. It, like most mortgages, is based on two earners. So I could lose my home.

There is also talk about fining companies who employ EU citizens rather than UK ones in future. This, of course, will make my husband unemployable, which again means I will lose my home.

There are many other more complex issues being mooted but let's just work with these two, given how huge they are. Let's work backwards from the official date of March 2019 with these two points. If we deem there to be a possibility that these two things go ahead, the last date an EU family can escape the UK is the middle of March 2019. By that date the EU member needs preferably to have found a job abroad and also have sold their UK home and found somewhere to live abroad, so you can't start thinking about it with two weeks to go. When you have children, disrupting them during a school year is not ideal, so the best time to take them out of school is the holiday before March 2019, so preferably the summer of 2018, (or Christmas at a pinch). Assuming you go for summer 2018 as that gives the kids longer to acclimatise to a new country before starting a new school, your house sale and new EU job need to be in place by June 2018, so realistically you need to start looking for them around January 2018. That gives us EU families just three months to find out what is going to happen and at the moment it looks extremely unlikely that we'll know anything at all in three months time.

So if we know nothing by Christmas this year, we are left with the question: do we sit it out and assume the government will finally come to its senses, negotiate something in the country's interest or even call the whole thing off or do we give up everything we've worked our whole adult lives for, disrupt our kids' schooling by pulling them out of a school we know is good and moving them potentially to a country where they don't even know the language, shatter our family in two (because at the very least Marcel needs to finish uni here, and Charlotte is due to start uni in Sept 2018) and start our lives again at the same time as we hit our late 40s/early 50s? Does this government instil the confidence in you that they'll sort out all the issues on the table, diplomatically by this Xmas? I have my doubts.

And that is why we breathe it every minute of every day. That is why many have started leaving already. If this doesn't get sorted in a more serious manner soon, it will be too late for my family, and for many of the other three million like us.

A trauma-free life

Léon comes across as a laid-back, happy boy. He can run a little bit on nervous energy, but in general things don't seem to get him down too much, all things considered:



  • his mother decided to leave his father when he was less than a year old
  • he has poor eyesight but we didn't discover the problem till he was four, so he couldn't really see properly till then
  • he used to visit his biological father about once a week from his 2nd birthday till his 6th and then he simply vanished from his life
  • when his father stopped seeing him, his French aunt and German grandmother also disappeared from his life
  • six weeks after his mum went freelance (when he was 3), his stepdad was made redundant, so the family's income plummeted drastically
  • his grandpa was diagnosed as terminally ill four weeks after he started primary school, so his mum's mind was elsewhere for the following twenty months (plus)
  • when he was six, his gran had a stroke and lost her ability to speak for several months
All in all that's quite a load for a child who is still only 11. Of course, those are just the negatives, and there are many, many more positives on the other side of the balance. 

Two weeks into high school, the English and Maths departments are still trying to make sure the kids are streamed according to their ability, (they've been put in sets based on the primary work and standardised test results). To check the quality of the pupils in the top three English classes, the teachers decided to set them the task of writing a 'personal reflective' essay, along the lines of the one they'll need to do for Higher in five years time. (See Charlotte's which I mentioned previously). 

Léon came home talking about having to write an essay about something he had experienced which has marked him in some way... Given what both Marcel and Charlotte chose at Higher, I was apprehensive. Léon is definitely way too young to open that can of worms. I asked tentatively if he'd an idea of what he could write about: I dunno, he said, I don't think anything really bad has ever happened to me in my life... I was about to point out that it didn't necessarily have to be something bad, just something that had moved him in some way when he suddenly looked as if a light bulb had come on. I braced myself... I know! Once when I was six and school had just started letting us eat our packed lunches outside, I took out my sandwich, put it on the picnic bench and turned to open my juice, and at that moment a seagull swooped down and stole my sandwich! Do you think that would count as a traumatic experience? Cos I can't think of anything else that's ever really upset me!
What a sweet, innocent and optimistic child he still is! 

At the end of the day he decided to write about this summer as it had been momentous for him to be left behind in Italy and gain a little independence away from his parents for three weeks and his home for five. The teacher was very happy with it.




Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Typeface

Thomas has decided to challenge the kids with this month's chores chart. Apparently it's the typeface his German grandparents were taught in school. It should be interesting to get their reaction!



Sunrise over a volcano

Nicaragua World Challenge MCHS

I meant to blog a link to this when she came back at the beginning of July, but we left for Italy then and I never got round to it...

Imagine being 17 years and eight months old and already having climbed to the top of a volcano on the other side of the world in complete darkness at 3am, to sit on the top and wait and watch sunrise over four more volcanoes. Imagine then going down and climbing those other four and volcano-boarding down the biggest one, Cerro negro, which last erupted the year before you were born...

One of the most difficult things I find with parenting teenagers is the sheer amount of envy you have to control deep within yourself, when you see their freedom and what's on offer these days. I was thrilled with a week in Switzerland (on a bus) on a geography trip as my high school experience (and I didn't even do geography!), now both my kids have gone to the other side of the world to do charity work and I'm practically glowing green. I don't envy them what awaits them after uni, of course, the world is so much more depressing than it was in my 20s, but as a traveller, I would kill to hide away in their rucksacks at times.

Charlotte came back with wonderful tales of another world. She taught in crowded outdoor classrooms where kids sat at desks combined with chairs but always with one eye on the sky as the daily torrential downpour meant they needed to be ready to run for their lives in the middle of a lesson, though being kids some were tempted simply to dance in the refreshing rain. Kids as young as seven could be under cover in less than thirty seconds with all their belongings when they needed to be. She described them as curious and desperate to learn all she could teach them. She told us of them crowding round her wanting to touch her hair as they were all much darker than her.

She also spent a few nights sleeping on the floor of semi-derelict classrooms, none of which had or needed windows, under mosquito nets and spending the days painting and restoring them. She got quite acquainted with the Nicaraguan flag as all school buildings have to be painted in the country's colours!

She showed us photos of the wildlife; things I've never even seen in a zoo. They simply walked past her in the more dense jungle areas: tiny frogs, coloured birds, monkeys, sloths and snakes. We've had pet hamsters since Charlotte was 13 and she's never picked one of them up yet - for as long as I can remember Charlotte has never liked animals with fur (yes, I know that rules out a few!) but she used to ask for terrapins, tortoises, snakes and the likes when she was little, so I'm surprised this itsy bitsy frog didn't make it home in her luggage!

She told us of the amazing food, proud that she was the only one in her group not to get an upset stomach! But most of all she told me that she'll keep in touch with her school and go back one day to see how they are doing. Then she turned to the three wee ones and said 'One day, I'll take you there', and for now at least, she really means it! Her world is much bigger now.

I'll leave you with this cute conversation I overheard when Charlotte was taking Amaia through her photos:
'Lotsie, see when people go volcano-boarding?'
'Yeah?'
'Do they shut the volcano while people are doing it? I mean, like, do they turn it off!?'

And here are her photos if anyone wonders what Nicaragua is like.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Beware of sepsis

It's only Wednesday today. It feels like three weeks on Friday...

It started at the beginning of last week. Charlotte casually asked me about 10 days ago if she should be worried if her pee was darker and smellier than usual. I asked if it hurt to pee, thinking she possibly had a urinary tract infection. She said no and had no other symptoms so we thought nothing more about it. Eight days ago I asked her in the passing if that had cleared up and she said she felt it had improved a little but not altogether disappeared so I phoned the GP while she was at school and arranged a phone consultation for 4pm. I fully expected they'd tell us to bring up a sample and that they'd check that. Unfortunately Léon managed to forget his PE kit in his Maths class that day and when got home at 4:03, we'd missed the call and last GP consultation of the day. Charlotte said it wasn't a problem as it was more or less back to normal anyway.

On Wednesday she was fine. On Thursday she was complaining of a backache and searching her memory for when she could have pulled a muscle. There were no longer any signs of problems with her pee so we didn't instantly connect the two. She also had a slight cold. I asked on Thursday if it could be a pain in her kidney rather than her back as I often get kidney pain when I'm under the weather. She considered it a possibility and decided to see the GP if it got worse.

Friday, she wasn't overly sore but Saturday she complained her back pain was worse and coming through to the front. I phoned the Out-of-hours GP service on NHS24 and was told to give her paracetamol and see our own GP first thing on Monday when it reopened. She wasn't in any way distressed, had no temperature, was eating normally and showing no other symptoms so we weren't overly worried.

On Sunday at lunchtime I shouted her to come and eat. It is completely normal not to see Lots before Sunday lunch! She didn't come down. I went up. She was burning hot and soaked in sweat. I phoned the Out-of hours again and told them I needed an appointment. I bundled her into the car and drove to the Victoria Infirmary. I then discovered that the second Sunday after schools go back is a bad day to go to Out of Hours... every 5-7 year old in Glasgow seemed to be in there, all accompanied by their younger siblings. I even knew two other people in the queue! After two hours we were seen by a woman GP (whose name I wish I had noted down, so I could thank her now). I fully expected a 5 minute consultation and a prescription for amoxicillin. She discovered Charlotte's temperature was 40 degrees, her heart rate was up at 160, her blood pressure was at 90/60, her pee was full of blood and she was retaining fluid. She said she needed to be hospitalized as a sepsis risk and advised me to drive her straight to A&E at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She told me to wait outside while she rang ahead and prepared a letter for them of her findings. She then had second thoughts and told me as Charlotte could be as close as five hours from developing sepsis, she didn't want us waiting in A&E so called an ambulance to drive her between the two hospitals, telling me to abandon my car. She was dragged out, hooked up to a heart monitor and driven across Glasgow. The QEUH had her hooked up to intravenous antibiotics and fluids within the hour.



Charlotte is 17, nearly 18. In Scotland that makes her a legal adult, so it also means she was transferred to the adult hospital, not the sick kids' hospital next door to the QEUH. That meant I was only allowed to stay for visiting hours rather than overnight as you would be with a child. I couldn't go with her for kidney scans or blood tests, etc. Leaving your child hooked up to intravenous antibiotics and fluids while they shiver and shake uncontrollably is extremely difficult. Sleeping with your phone on and beside your pillow, so as not to miss any emergency calls is also hard. By Tuesday morning, I was convinced it was about Friday. I had driven in and out to Govan a dozen times in just three days, taking various worried siblings to see her.



On Monday morning she was taken for a kidney scan and that night she was deemed out of danger and moved upstairs, to a room with the best view in the whole hospital of the helipad! By then her fever had disappeared enough that she was getting seriously bored with the lack of things to do and with the food!

Last night they agreed she could move onto oral antibiotics and go home, on condition she came in for blood tests as an outpatient till her infection levels dropped to a nil. They had dropped considerably but not to the level they had been hoping for. So we'll be back again tomorrow. Here's hoping she's well by then.

I think the biggest shock for me in the whole thing was that she went from not having a fever to being considered an imminent sepsis risk in less than 12 hours. It really is terrifying.

This, by the way, is my second encounter with the QEUH in as many months. I am very impressed with the speed, friendliness and competence in there, (though not the food, lol!). I know everyone jokes about the 'death star' but sorry, anyone who saves my child's life is all right in my books.

Sheer joy


I think this is my favourite photo from this year's holiday. Amaia had been given a rather old photo so she could take photos and she was very impressed with the sunflower field outside Poppi. I love the looks on both her sisters' faces as she lines it up. I like it best, not because it captures a nice view, but because it captures the love, happiness and patience of two big sisters pleasing the youngest one.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Disoriented

It's been a long time since any of our kids crawled into our bed during the night, probably 5 years or more. Friday night, something upset Amaia (I suspect Roald Dahl is to blame as we're reading Witches together at the moment and it seems to be scaring her witless!) So around 2am she crawled in between Thomas and me. I didn't wake up so hadn't noticed. I got quite a fright when I felt fleece under the duvet (Thomas doesn't tend to wear a fleece onesie to bed!)

At that point she also started to stir, she reached one hand out and touched Thomas's head, then started to feel in my direction. As she realized she was between us, she nearly jumped out her skin and exclaimed - 'Woah, what are you two doing in my bed?' Hahaha

Here's Amaia in her bed - did she really, genuinely think all three of use could fit in there?!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Qualifying for the absurd

As I mentioned in the passing last week when I was discussing Lots's exam result, there has been a change in our financial circumstances. At the time, we had not been informed of any change by the child maintenance department, we simply had noticed that our bank account was rather on the light side and had telephoned them to see if they had any inkling why. Their unofficial reply then resulted in the cancellation of my planned trip to buy the kids their new school uniforms a few days before school went back. They told me that as soon as they had the official paperwork, I would be sent an explanation. So here's an excerpt from this morning's letter. 



It just struck me as a bizarre concept altogether...

Let's analyse it. A child's father 'qualifies for the nil rate of child maintenance'. It goes on to list what can qualify a person for this rate - having no job, being a child themselves, living in a care home, working abroad for a non-UK-based employer (and various other options for 16 and 17 year olds). So although an absent parent earns a living and has a job they no longer need to give any financial contribution towards their children. They basically earn the right to be absolved of all financial responsibility for them by moving abroad. I'm not sure I understand how that is possible. If I lose my job tomorrow and find myself homeless, I am still financially responsible for them, the person with custody never gets that opt out. If I decide to move abroad tomorrow, I still have to feed and clothe them. How can any parent ever qualify for the nil rate of child maintenance? Children are your responsibility from the day you have them till the day you die, not even simply until they turn 18 (or 25, or whatever arbitrary cut off point is put on it.) 

I presume they are assuming parents who move to good jobs abroad will feel morally obliged to not let their kids go hungry or without clothes and I hope that is generally the case but the wording that a parent can ever qualify for a nil rate of maintenance towards their child blows my mind. If I was homeless and hungry, I would still see to it that my kids were fed before me. I would never ever feel I qualified for a nil rate of responsibility towards them, no matter how old they are.

This notion is simply absurd to me.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Family words

Every family has its own made-up words. For instance, we Buchanans all call a digger a jalt. This came from an encounter I had at three with a digger being used in my neighbour's garden - I was convinced it was going to dig up the lettuce patch at the back of my garden and wanted to alert my parents to the strange and dangerous beast, but lacking the vocabulary, I rushed in and announced in a panicked tone that a jalt was trying to eat our plants.

I suspect tonight's cooking quote from Amaia might have spawned a new family word, and if it hasn't entered our vocabulary yet, I'm going to try my damnedest to get it to.

I asked her to help Anna make dinner and this is what she came out with: I'm trying to wash this mushroom but I just can't seem to get it to undirtify!

It's brilliant, isn't it? I think it's one my dad would have loved. I remember how fond he was of Charlotte's yestertime . He used it whenever he could.

What's the obsession?

I went (once again) to Italy on holiday. Thomas's family lives there so it is our most common destination. As always, straight off the plane I skipped along looking out for vintage Fiat 500s (aka ancient Chuggies, in family speak) and had to stop every time I saw a vast expanse of sunflowers.

Then one day a week or two in, Léon asked the question 'What is your obsession with sunflowers and Chuggies, mum? They are just flowers and cars!' - you can imagine his tone, eleven going on fifteen, deep, newly broken voice oozing a mixture of contempt and boredom! I hadn't really thought about it before, I'd simply always spent my holidays in Italy seeking these two things out... So I lay in bed that night and thought it over - why chuggies and sunflowers?





I hadn't realized till then what an absolutely huge question it actually was.

Let me go over  my encounters with Italy. In 1981, my family went abroad for the first (and only) time in my childhood. We drove to the south of France and used a friend's caravan. Two weeks later we drove back. Our trip there went Glasgow, London, Ramsgate-Calais (on a hovercraft no less!), St Omer, Fontainebleau, Lyon, Aix, to Le Lavandou and the return took me along the coast to Ventimiglia, then Turin, Aosta, through the famous Mont Blanc tunnel to Geneva then a day in Paris and a drive home. I still remember the entire route as it was magical to me. I had dreamt of going abroad so long that when I did (at 13) I took in every sound, every language, the name of every town, the food, the smells, the heat, the dust, everything. I had found my raison d'être. Between that trip and my 18th birthday, I spent a total of 4 weeks abroad - one visiting a German couple I knew, one on a school trip and two meeting my French boyfriend's family. None was spent alone.

Then came the summer of 1986. I was 18 years old. I had worked extra hard in my first year at uni to come top of the Italian class. I wanted to come top because I had heard a rumour that the top student was offered a bursary by the Italian government to study at Perugia uni for the summer. There was no way I could have afforded to go to Italy, pay a room, university fees and food for a summer in Italy but if I just worked hard enough and consistently enough, I knew I was in with a chance. I won the scholarship - but for me it wasn't just a scholarship to learn Italian, it was a scholarship to freedom, to independence, to adventure, to becoming me. I won the money to allow me to leave home for the first time, to have my own flat in an ancient stone building in Perugia, in a house with quaint little red roof tiles and a window I could stare out of at life in a foreign city.  I watched out of my window in Perugia's narrow Via della Viola as the little three-wheeled trucks made their deliveries and the ancient Fiat 500s zoomed past. Of course, they weren't so ancient then - they were old and battered but almost everyone seemed to have one as they were amongst the only cars that could fit up the narrow alleyways.

During these weeks, I studied and I watched the Chuggies from my window. I experienced living alone for the first time, I had my own place, I shared with two Austrian boys. I felt like a grown-up for the first time, doing grown-up things in my own place, alone with my own front door key. All I had was a table, two chairs and a single bed but I can still smell that room if I close my eyes; it was cool, with a marble floor, it was high up in the building but so noisy with the voices of international students passing to go to uni, it vibrated with the low hum vespas and chuggies. It smelled of dry and dusty Italian summer. It smelled of the breathless summer in a city. I remember being 18, lying naked on top of my sheets desperately and unsuccessfully trying to find some cool in the evening breeze to bring me air to breathe, and loving it. I hadn't won a scholarship, I had won the lottery, I had won my life.

The first time I walked into Perugia uni for a class, my jaw dropped in shock - I felt like I'd walked into a Michelangelo painting - frescos on the ceiling and walls - everywhere I looked and many languages around me. There were voices from everywhere in the world, or so it seemed. We had to communicate together in Italian as it was the only common language. I remember in one of the first classes we were asked to describe the seasons in our own country. A black girl sitting beside me said there were no seasons where she came from. Perugia for me was an orgasmic coming of age in the most international place I had ever been and in one of the most beautiful cities I had ever seen. I was growing up and becoming me. I was becoming the me who needed to be surrounded by multiple languages and nationalities always. I was learning to love the south and the heat and the smells in the air of herbs and dried grass and the endless fields of sunflowers that stretched before my eyes every time I set foot in a train to go anywhere from Perugia. The photographer in me walked daily to the edge of the city to wander alone amongst the sunflowers and the bees. I was fascinated by them all standing there in lines, to attention, untouched by wind and rain. The vibrancy that met my eyes overwhelmed me. It still does.

So, Léon, when I run about at a few months off 50 stopping to breathe in the beauty of the sunflowers, I am 18 again and on the edge of a new beginning. When I hear an old Chuggy, I have my whole life ahead of me. I am in a new place at the start of the adventure that would become my life. Going to Perugia made me the woman who had to marry a foreigner, who had to speak multiple languages at home and sunflowers and Chuggies are the very embodiment of 18 year old me. So, love me or leave me, as long as there is a breath in my body, I will hunt out the last remaining Chuggy in Italy and the most vibrant sunflower field I can find.


And one day when I'm dead and buried I hope the sight of a chuggy or a sunflower will make you stop and think about me for a minute. Maybe you'll turn to Léon junior at that moment and say: You know what son? Let me tell you how crazy your grandmother was...