Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A week off

We spent the Easter break in Germany. Like every time I have stepped on a plane since June 23rd 2016, I felt a heavy physical weight being lifted from me as I ascended the steps of the aircraft. Being away from the UK is definitely good for my mental health at the moment. I could suddenly get on with life instead of holding my breath while waiting to see which mad alley the UK government is going to drive my family. When I look at the spring flowers in my garden, I wonder if I will be here next spring to see them bloom. In Germany I simply looked at the spring flowers and enjoyed them. In Germany no one is talking about Brexit, it is not on their horizon, so insignificant it is in their scheme of things and that is immensely calming, until you remember that while they are happily getting on with their lives, yours is still in limbo.

I'm home less than a week and I can already feel my levels of anxiety increase. My mood goes with the ebb and flow of each successive Brexit article as it speeds past me on Facebook or Twitter; I've long-since abandoned most mainstream media. Obviously the whole Windrush scandal has huge implications for families like mine. People who have lived here their whole lives are being taken from their homes and families and deported 'back' to a country they have never been to, because their paperwork doesn't conform to rules the home office has put in place retrospectively and we're told not to worry as the status of EU citizens is 'more or less done and dusted'. Forgive me my scepticism and lack of trust.

Charlotte now has twenty days till she must definitively pick her university course. When her Higher results came in last August, I assured her we would know with plenty of time to spare what we would be doing. At that point I figured we would know the shape of Brexit by Xmas at the latest. With that knowledge on board, we would be able to decide whether it was safe to stay or whether leaving together would be our only chance of guaranteeing our future together as a family. We had decided we could live with EEA/EFTA, in fact with anything that incorporated free movement, but that without that we'd need to seriously weigh up leaving. It was inconceivable to us that with twenty days to her deadline, Brexit could still fall anywhere between hard Brexit on WTO terms and cancelling it altogether. She has to decide whether to stay with her family and go to Glasgow or uproot her life and join her brother in Edinburgh and that decision was to be made based on whether her family would be here or not. For six hundred and sixty three days our family has been in limbo. For six hundred and sixty three days, I have not been able to answer a question as simple as 'Will you still be living here when I go to uni?' Just try for a moment to imagine living six hundred and sixty three days not knowing if you are about to have to move country. I'm so sick of it. Totally and utterly fucking tired of everything. I won't even apologise for swearing because I am so drained by the whole thing.

Our next deadline comes at the end of June. By the end of June she will need to apply to SAAS for her university tuition fees and student loan. Obviously the amount of money she will require living with us in Newton Mearns will differ greatly from the amount she will need if she suddenly has to rent a flat in Glasgow if we leave. Again, we can't answer her question of where she will be living and how much money she will need.

Leaving at the very least means selling a house, closing down our company and all the paperwork that would entail, revoking three school places, finding two new jobs in the same country, finding two new schools and somewhere to live. It means boxing up the belongings we have in our five bedroom house and finding a way to move them and the money to do so. It means selling two cars. It means paying a fine to get out of our fixed term mortgage. It means preparing Marcel and Charlotte and my mother who lives alone and is in her mid-70s for our leaving. It means preparing the three other kids for losing all their friends and family, their home, their school and their language... everything they have ever known in their lives. It means finding the money to suddenly pay for the two older kids to live with no base. All this takes a lot of time and we've already had six hundred and sixty three days of that time wasted.

How much longer are the government planning on slowly spit-roasting families like mine? Is it too much to ask to just be able to enjoy spring without worrying?

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Nine days left

In nine days time, I will be able to say 'I have three kids at school'.

Until you have made the journey, no one can prepare you for how short your child's school years are. As childless people and even as parents of little ones, our point of reference is our own journey through school, and as we all know that took foreeeeeever! I started school in 1972 and left in 1985 and that felt like a lifetime. 1972 seems like the distant past, I can barely remember it, 1985 feels so recent to me, I can still remember how I felt walking out of my high school for the very last time. In those days there was no prom and no graduation, you simply finished that day's classes and walked home. How strange that would seem to today's children!

So how come it is over in a flash when you are the parent? The thing is, the first couple of years at primary school, when they are learning everything from scratch takes a reasonable amount of time, but from about p3 time speeds up. They don't really learn anything new, they just get better at what they've already learnt, so p4-p7 takes a much shorter time than p1-p3. People will tell you that when they go to high school, they are only just through the door when they are suddenly coming out the other end. s1-s6 feels somewhere between two and three years, in real terms. They have only just got there when they are suddenly narrowing down subjects for Nat5, only half way through that course when their Highers are chosen and no sooner do their s5 results come in than they are applying to uni, and if my kids are anything to go by, they are applying without the slightest idea of what they want to be!

Charlotte is currently sitting on four unconditional uni offers (and one still outstanding, but given it is the easiest course to get into, I can safely say she's sitting on five unconditional offers, realistically). So over the next four or five weeks she will need to decide whether her future lies in Glasgow or Edinburgh, in Law, in Economics, or in History (all three with languages). As her mum, I am not sure she is ready to make that decision, but I guess she probably feels more equipped to make it than I would give her credit for. She is no longer this little p1 girl on her first day in Kirkhill, but a young woman at the beginning of an exciting path.

She is planning to spend the summer in Madrid, where she will be working as an au pair to two little girls, the same age as her sisters. The pay is almost non-existent, but in terms of experience, it will open a world of opportunities to her and I can hardly wait to get her home an hear all about what she has done. In a way, it would be better if she could make her uni choice at the end of the summer, as I expect her stay in Spain may completely change her outlook on the future, just as my summer at Perugia uni in Italy did for me when I was 18.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A weekend of Brexit ponderings

It has been another Brexit emotional roller coaster of a weekend.

Thomas and I were invited to a Brexit focus group being run by Birmingham university to share our personal issues with others whose lives are affected in the same or similar ways. The group consisted of a Belgian woman with a Belgian partner and two young kids based in London for the last 20 years, a Swedish grandmother-to-be who came to Scotland in the early 90s and raised her family with her Scottish husband, a middle-aged Hungarian woman who had been here five years with her four kids, a young Spanish man in his early twenties who moved here with his father when he was a young teenager and went through the Scottish high school system, and finally Thomas who has been here since 2002.

It became clear that every case was unique. That might be the reason this one-size-fits all has so many people falling through the gaps... In the world of Theresa May, our situation is black and white, in the real world we are every shade of grey, and families like ours, which she once sneered at for being citizens of nowhere, are actually proud to be citizens of everywhere, part of an intricate web of nations that we call family.

The Belgian had had her kids in Belgium as it was an hour away on the train, but that meant her children had no claim on being British despite having lived all but the first two days of their lives here. They will not be able to make a case for being British for ten and fourteen years respectively. The woman would never have popped home in labour if she'd known the enormity of the consequences for her family, of course.

The Swede's parents are still alive but in their mid-90s. She had assumed that as she herself reached retirement age she could nip over occasionally and help them whenever they became frail, but even six months away would nullify her 30 years in the UK and she would be ineligible to return despite having a British husband and kids, so she is unable to care for her relatives under the new rules. She had already acquired the right to remain before Sweden became a full member but the paperwork has been destroyed so she has no way to prove she can stay.

The Hungarian's youngest child has been here since she was 12, but attends a special school for partially-sighted artists - she has nowhere she can go back to that can accommodate her special needs so she too is in limbo.

The Spanish boy has Scottish qualifications so can't easily return to Spain, but Spain (like several EU nations) doesn't allow dual citizenship, so if he was to apply for naturalisation, he'd lose the right to move back to Spain at any point in the future and that is where the rest of his family lives. He can't even give returning to Spain a trial run of more than six months as that would nullify his right to remain here with his father and friends, where his qualifications are valid. So he is realistically neither eligible to stay, nor able to leave.

Our own case was the most complex of all, and the most complex the woman in charge of the study had encountered to date... I am a UK citizen, only. Thomas is a Danish citizen, only, but it is more complicated than that...

Despite being born in Denmark to a Danish mother and having lived there till his 30th birthday, Thomas is not a Dane by birth, but a naturalised Dane. In the 70s, when he was born, a child was assigned the nationality of its father and his father was a German expat in Denmark when he was born. When his father naturalised Danish when Thomas was around ten, Thomas and his sister were forced to lose their German citizenship and gain Danish. This makes Thomas's Danish citizenship more precarious than anyone else born on the same day in the same hospital to fully Danish parents. On paper, he is an immigrant who naturalised as a Dane. Crazy, or what? When Denmark recently changed its rules to allow dual nationality, he tried to apply to get his original nationality back, but the consulate in Copenhagen has destroyed the paperwork so that is going to be long and cumbersome but necessary... Thomas wants his original nationality back to pass on to the girls. Although they currently hold Danish passports, those will be revoked if they do not move to Denmark before they turn 22. If the UK is still playing silly buggers, they will lose their EU citizenship and freedom of movement at that moment. Germany, like France in the case of my older kids, doesn't revoke nationality once it is acquired, so that is Thomas's reason for pursuing his original nationality. So, those are his complex nationality issues.

His UK issues are numerous too. He originally moved here with a full-time job so worked for seven years for a UK employer. At that point the UK entered a downturn and he was made redundant. He then started up his own company which took a number of years to be anywhere near comparable with his original job. In the meantime he has moved house twice. Paperwork has been lost, pay slips and P60s are gone. Approximately 30% of EU citizens who apply for the right to remain are rejected because of missing paperwork. Ironically, the longer you have been here, the more likely you are to be rejected as the longer the period you have had to lose your paperwork. Although you only need to provide evidence of five years here to be issued with the right to remain (which incidentally costs money and is not valid after Brexit), you actually need to provide full paperwork for the complete duration to be eligible to apply for UK citizenship (that is if you have a spare £1200, and your original country allows dual citizenship and you have all your paperwork and money and time to shell out for language tests and tests to prove you understand life in the UK - where you've been paying taxes since you arrived). And to put it bluntly, who wants to do all that to acquire the right to continue living the way you did freely till two years ago (only with diminished rights)? Until this happened Thomas had the right to bring his parents to live with us if they became frail at some point in the future, now he will lose that right. Many EU citizens would never have moved here and many UK citizens would have never moved abroad, had they known this reciprocal agreement would be withdrawn. We all like to know our parents can be cared for in their old age. Now, we are very stressed at knowing we may have to watch for afar, unable to assist. So, those are his main issues. They are by no means all of our complications, but they give you a feel for how we are living at the moment.

Then there are mine... I have three kids who aren't his. Two are over eighteen, so technically adults. They were registered as French citizens at the Edinburgh consulate at birth, though they no longer have anything other than a scan of that document. To apply for French citizenship documentation, they need to fly to London and prove they are eligible. This is costly but doable if they want to retain their right to freedom of movement. But one of those kids is twelve. At twelve he needs his biological father to countersign the documents in his name in order to be given a French passport. He has not seen his father since he was six years old, so this would mean tracking him down, which we have recently managed to do, flying him from his home in South East France (at our expense) and us from here to London and meeting up. This would have a huge emotional impact on the child, forcing him to confront a past that he may want to leave till he is older and more emotionally equipped to deal with the fall-out. As if Brexit itself isn't stressful enough for families like ours. As if potentially losing your home, extended family, friends, school, country and siblings wasn't already enough...

So if I can get Léon's paperwork in order and the two biggies can do that for themselves, then the only (ha!) remaining issue is that I lose my freedom of movement on 29 March 2019 so if we decide it is going to become impossible for a family like ours to continue living in this country, ironically I need to escape by that date, even if the others can allow themselves to stay longer to see what is happening.

If I need to flee first, I will become landlocked where I touch down as I will lose my freedom of movement for approximately five years until I can apply for the nationality where I have moved to. This means I need to preempt where Thomas is most likely to find a decent job, and the kids will be able to adapt to a new school system and even potentially a new language. Obviously, I'll need to polish up my crystal ball.

We've already heard of banks refusing to renew mortgages of EU citizens as their status is unclear; our current package runs out next summer, so if we become ineligible for a new package, we could be forced out of the home we have been paying for since before Anna was born and all through no fault of our own.

So we risk having to lose our home, being forced to close down a company we've spent nine years building up, look for two new jobs in the same country(!), move our kids school and change their primary language, split our family for a minimum of four years as Charlotte will already be at university here when we need to go. And realistically, it could mean splitting our family forever... will they really follow us after four years study here?

Those of you who are not directly affected by the Brexit vote can go weeks without it being top of your agenda, those of us in mixed families have lived it and breathed it every day since June 23 2016. That makes 642 days where it has been the only or at least main topic of conversation and take it from me, that makes it bloody tiring. It is the first thing I think about when I waken up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed. I dream about losing my home and my kids, about not being to help my mum who lives alone, three streets from me. We spend a minimum of two hours a day talking it through - that is 1284 hours and counting! Everything is on hold; I can't buy a new blind for my dining room - what's the point if we might have moved within the year? I won't even plant new bulbs in my garden. Everything seems temporary and fluid. When you are as directly affected us, you know every detail and every twist and turn. You know every company that has left and every drop in the pound.

Everything in my life is beyond my control and some days I just want to gain back that power. Some days I think, today, I'm going to leave because you've broken me and I can't face this level of uncertainty any more. Other days, I think, they must surely come to their senses and stop this madness. Companies are leaving, students are no longer applying, doctors and professors are leaving the UK behind, house prices are falling, inflation in the supermarkets is hitting crazy figures. Butter has jumped from 85p to £1-45 in Aldi in just 16 months. Medicine prices are set to spiral. Ireland... I don't even need to explain that one. We hear of foreign interference, of illegal vote rigging and all sorts and still both May and Corbyn bungle on towards the abyss.

If I sell my house, rip my family in two and drag my kids out of their school only to see it all cancelled I will be devastated, if I stay and this goes ahead, I will be devastated. I go round and round on this merry-go-round till I can hardly breathe.

It felt good on Friday to talk to others in our situation. No one really understands and as I rant daily on Facebook and Twitter, I am, at best, ignored. But speaking to people who could relate to it also meant allowing myself to be affected by them and that is emotionally draining.

Saturday saw the March for Europe all over the UK (not that you'd know from watching the BBC, which now openly blanks everything that does not suit its agenda). The speakers were wonderful and very articulately explained the catastrophic effect this will have on the younger generation, my children.

Patrick Harvie really summed up the anger I feel at losing my freedom of movement. For me, it is personal. For me it is saying that the way I have lived my adult life is no longer acceptable and will not be tolerated in my children's generation. I cannot accept that and hope I never have to, but unlike Patrick, I am willing to move and change nationality, if that is the only way.

Professor Tanja Bueltmann spoke to me like a family member - a foreigner who has made her home here, as my husband (and the one before him) did. I was very taken by her summing up that Brexit means a future built on the foundation of hate and lies (and Cambridge analytica by the looks of it). Brexit means a future that relies on chlorinated chicken and holding hands with a Putin puppet. Brexit means a future that seeks to recreate a past that never existed in the first place. Brexit means a future that will rob Britons and young Britons in particular of a world of opportunities and of rights. Brexit means a future for the few and not the many. Make no mistake and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Mike Galsworthy from Scientists for the EU spoke passionately of why this is madness and the effects already hitting the scientist and medicine community.

Each of them, and the other speakers explained clearly why we must stay angry and fight this until we run out of time and then we should continue to fight it still.

By the end of the weekend, I was emotionally exhausted, deeply depressed, exhilarated, full of hope, full of fear and I had aged about a year. I will keep muddling on for now and may still jump ship before it is too late, but I will never be guilty of apathy, at least.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Blast from the past

I came across this yesterday when we took an hour out to actually enjoy probably the first almost spring-like day of the year.

It immediately made me think back to this photo!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Multilingual turtles

I was about eight before I became fully aware there were other languages. This is quite ironic given I was being brought up in a house where I was expected to speak standard English despite the fact that my parents spoke a mix of English and Scots and my grandparents spoke fully in Scots. It never occurred to me that a standard English speaker could conceivably have an issue fully understanding a conversation such as the one referenced on Twitter today by David Leask:

My children are, of course, living a different life. They have heard a minimum of two distinct languages every day since they were born - English first alternated with French, then by the time Léon came on the scene Danish had been added in. All the while Scots was still in the mix, of course. When Thomas's parents visit, German is added in around the dining table, and sometimes Schwäbisch too. When we visit them at their home in Tuscany, Italian is dropped into the mix and at school Spanish is on the agenda too. The TV intermittently gives us Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and even the odd movie in Georgian. 

With this backdrop, I found the three youngest this morning on my bed playing with the turtles Marcel had brought them back from a lads' holiday to Greece when he was 18. (Or rather the girls were playing and Léon was humouring them with his presence...)

Do your turtles have names? I asked, nonchalantly. 
Of course, replied Amaia: The baby is called Feeki... 
Feeki? I enquired, Like F-E-E-K-I? 
NO! It's pronounced FEEKI but it's spelt with the funny letters in your Greek dictionary! He's Greek you know, so you can't use our letters for his name. I looked it up - his name means 'Seaweed'.
What about the other two?
I looked up 'Coral' for the mummy and 'Zesty' for the daddy, so their names are this: 
and she proceeds to write and slowly read:

Baby φύκι,  
Mummy κοράλλι and 
Daddy ζωηρός

I'm not sure many eight-year-olds look up an English-Greek dictionary before naming their soft toys! I do think growing up bi-/multilingually gives you a very different outlook on life!

It's all Greek to him

Thomas and I are working on a Greek project at the moment. This means we have Greek dictionaries lying around in the living room which in turn means nosy little children happen upon them. Léon took a real interest in his first encounter with a non-Latin alphabet language, and his initial reaction to it all definitely lightened the work atmosphere on Friday afternoon.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Gourmet food

I'm sitting reading my book:
Léon: Come on, mum ! I need you to be my sous chef. 
Me (ooooh, this sounds promising): What are you making?
Léon: a bramble jelly from the Polish shop, I can't read the instructions!
What a let down!

So here we have them - a fairly successful 'kiwi' moomin, and a not so aesthetically perfect 'bramble' lump!

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Whiteout madness

I'm getting dressed in my bedroom (with the blackout blinds down) listening to the kids happily eating breakfast in the dining room next door. Suddenly Anna comes out with '...if we even get there', which I think is an odd comment given school has been back since yesterday, now all the snow has gone. I dive through topless, wearing just one sock and stare in horror - it's back, and it looks a damn sight worse than last week, or to be more precise, it's probably the same as last week (though it is still actually snowing heavily which it wasn't on Thursday and Friday), the difference is the council has opted not to shut the schools so the gridlock is starting. 

I jump onto Whatsapp: 35 new messages - not a good sign! Reports come in from parents who have been stuck for 50 minutes and have moved one kilometre. Buses are stuck, cars are abandoned. As people get out to push cars that are stuck in front of them, others try overtaking on blind corners tooting in disgust. I stand on my dining room chair to watch over the hedge. In less than five minutes I see three cars get stuck, two overtake dangerously, one lose its back end and skid onto the pavement and not a single bus (on a normal busy bus route). I decide I am not taking my car. After 33 years behind the wheel, I know I can drive this, but I can also see that not everyone else can and I sure as hell am not going to risk it, besides, I'm at the bottom of a cul de sac that doesn't get gritted except in emergencies so I have half an hour of digging just to be allowed to join that queue on the photo. 

Next I consider walking and, to be honest, would have had it not been snowing heavily. It takes me exactly 45 minute on foot to get to school on a sunny day and I do do that, but in this, I'd add at least ten extra minutes for weather and ten more for the length of Amaia's legs. 

Over an hour walking in this means taking a complete change of uniform with me as the girls will both be soaked. It is a 2 hour round trip for me to drop them and another 2 hour trip to pick them up and that's assuming school doesn't close in the meantime and call me to pick them up early. So I decide, it isn't worth the hassle. It's only four days since Amaia got over a cough and cold and half the class has already told me on Whatsapp that they've thrown in the towel, so they won't miss anything vital that they won't need to repeat. I'm not walking it till the snow stops.

That leaves the biggies. They can probably get to school in about an hour if they start walking. Again, they'll get soaked, but at least I don't need to accompany them. The school uniform (inc blazer and black leather dress shoes) is compulsory so they need to wear something else and change when they get there but that necessitates carrying a bag of clothes on top of carrying their bags and fighting through the snow for an hour. On arrival, they have nowhere to store their wet clothes - s6s are not eligible for lockers so Lots doesn't have one. Friends on Whatsapp are telling me school is a ghost town. I then get a text from high school telling me the buses are unable to run so the (approx) third of the pupils who come from Eaglesham have not made it in. It's at times like these that I wish Scottish schools looked more towards Scandinavia for school attire rather than basing compulsory uniforms on the London climate...

The M77 is at a standstill, friends are tweeting they haven't moved in 90 minutes. Everyone who is already on the road is saying not to add to the chaos. But parents who were off last week are so scared of phoning in to work to say they are stuck, that they are attempting the impossible. Some are getting there, but more by luck than by sensible decision-making.

A friend who was up much earlier than me has seen the gritters do their rounds around 5am, followed by extreme rain that has washed it all away, then heavy snow - poor council workers will be getting the usual abuse for that, no doubt.

I decide to reassess at later in the morning. Next, I see our station on the BBC page, I decide I should maybe consider throwing in the towel for the day.

In the meantime, I see an absolutely terrifying message on Whatsapp (complete with photos). A friend (the mother of one of Amaia's best friends) has tried walking her kids to school as she is much closer than us. A school(?) bus has missed a corner, skidded onto the pavement hitting a pole, and missing her daughter by less than a metre. A bus!!! Take that in - kids walking the school route narrowly missed by a bus skidding on the pavement. I am beside myself at the thought of what could have happened this morning. It takes my breath away, then I get angry. Sorry, guys, you are now not walking to school if it's this dangerous, decision taken. I am so glad Amaia still has all her friends in one piece and am sending e-hugs.

I then see a further message from another mum who has actually managed as far as her work approximately 13km from here and has been told off for being late(!) and asked for photographic proof that it is actually snowing as it isn't there!!! The words fuck and off spring to mind. Sorry, shaming people into driving in such dangerous conditions is insane. This needs sorting out.

Around lunchtime I decide they can build a snowman instead - call it a science or art lesson - I don't really care.

It has stopped snowing now and started to melt and odds are that I will get them to school tomorrow but when did the world go so mad? What most of us do (I don't mean doctors and the likes) is not crucial. We can do it from home or we can do it tomorrow. It is not worth risking life and limb for. Today was utter madness because when people are told it isn't a snow day they are so terrified of not turning up at their office or shop that they feel compelled to endanger themselves and others. We need to build some more pragmatism into life and start analysing what's actually important!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wedding anniversary whiteout

Here's a photo of me with all my kids (then) on my wedding day, nine years ago today. No, I don't know what Marcel is doing to Léon either and I'm not even sure I want to know!

Although we'd been living together for a number of years, we had not got round to marrying before then (something to do with my ex-husband refusing all attempts at divorcing him, but that's another story!)

Today Thomas is having to work from home, rather than Edinburgh where he should be, because of this major snow lock-down in Scotland (and much of Europe). I was postulating over lunch that had our wedding been today rather than then, it would not have happened. Glasgow has shut all its schools and museums so I expect the registry office is also shut. We'd have got some cool photos, mind you!

During this conversation, Anna pipes up: 'Do you still have the dresses Charlotte and I wore at the wedding?' I think I saw them in the wardrobe recently, so I say I do and she immediately asks if she can have them for her kids to wear at her wedding! Charlotte then tries to gently point out that it isn't really the norm to have your kids at your wedding in this country and Anna, sweet and naive, looks terribly upset and asks why people would consider not even inviting their own kids to their wedding 'Surely they don't just leave them at home?' she sobbed! You've got to laugh! Charlotte finally spelt it out to her 'Most people live together, then get engaged, then get married, then have kids'. 

Anna's reply? 'Well, that's just weird!'

Amaia's reply? 'I still think you were selfish getting married before you had me. That makes me the only one of your kids who you didn't invite to your wedding!' 

Funny! I think we have some rather unorthodox kids in this family.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Robin Hood

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Dishwasher issues

Is it just us? We go through a minimum of three of these bloody things every year. They are minimum £8.50 a pop and no sooner are they delivered than holes appear on the bottom and knives fall through and block the rotor. I know most families don't run their dishwasher twice a day but there are lots of us. I mean we don't even use it for pots, they need to be done by hand! Anyway, I am utterly sick of forking out for them when I know they are flimsy and useless but I can't find an alternative at any price. I'm seriously considering making one out of rust-proof metal - I bet I could make a small fortune on them!

Can you 3D-print them using some space-proof material or similar? Any idea?

Saturday, February 10, 2018


When Léon was about five or six months old, Charlotte invented the nickname 'Pudge(man) for him. Well, he was kind of pudgy back then - unfortunately he didn't shake off the name till he was about eight and people were always puzzled why the skinniest member of the family went by 'Pudge'.

For about three years he got to be Léon, but now she's come up with a new name for him. It started out as 'Doughball' because he was forever doing the daftest things, to her mind anyway. He was so consistent in his Doughballness, that she started shortening it to Doughb', which seems to be his current nickname.

On Thursday Charlotte had her Adv Higher Spanish prelim. You get disqualified from an exam if you are found to have a mobile phone on you, but as she keeps all her Spanish notes on her phone, she wanted it before the exam started, so leaving it at home was out. As S6s don't qualify for lockers at their school (fewer subjects, less need than the lower school), her original plan was to borrow Léon's locker key for the day, put her phone in there for the duration and then retrieve it, but of course 'Doughb' has managed, some time in the last fortnight, to misplace his locker key (with his PE kit inside!) so plan A was out.

Strangely, she decided to trust him to look after it while she was in the exam hall. As they got out the car, I saw her zipping it into his inside blazer pocket, not trusting him to do it himself. The plan was set, on the way up to school she had ascertained that he had Mandarin when she finished, so if she went to the Mandarin class and asked to get her phone back, all would be well. Of course, Doughb' couldn't be trusted to have remembered his timetable correctly, could he? So when he suddenly realised mid-morning that he, in fact, had French, not Mandarin when her exam finished, he helpfully sent her a text to rearrange where she had to meet him to pick up her phone. Doughb'!!!!

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Because I am never likely to own my own vintage Fiat 500, I have a Fiat 500 key ring on my Ipsilon (as in 'Lancia') keys (sad, I know). It's very sweet and only cost a fiver off eBay a few years ago. I figured it was as close as I'd ever get. This morning I asked Léon to grab the keys to go to school. Somehow he dropped them on the wooden floor and the little car snapped off the chain irreparably 😢

Being a sweet kid, he handed me his debit card and told me to buy a new one off eBay. First, I found this,


which I was on the verge of ordering until suddenly this popped up! OMG - it never occurred to me in a million years that they sold real Chuggies on eBay!!! Anyone out there want to buy me a belated birthday present? please, please, please?!!

Product review

I don't usually bother reviewing products but our  latest food processor was so spectacularly bad, I thought I'd make sure everyone was warned off it.

When I got married to my first husband in 1991, we got a Moulinex food mixer as a gift and I used it all the time - it had many different sizes of grater, a shredder, and a knife that was great for 'liquidising' old bread into wonderful breadcrumbs. It was great! Being somewhat more of a chef than him, I got it in the divorce settlement. Phew!

It finally kicked the bucket last summer at the ripe old age of 26, not bad going for a £50 machine - £2 a year, if you like.

So we replaced it with a VonShef (left). It was in approximately the same price range. It had a good, even more powerful motor, so what could go wrong? Firstly, the grater discs had a space between the edge of the discs and the bowl so nothing grated, it just got clogged up with carrot mush every time we tried to make coleslaw. 😢

Having ruled out grating anything, ever, we resorted to doing that manually (for seven portions of things, this is a pain in the backside). Always trying to see the bright side, we decided at least the spinning knife attachment could be used to make our breadcrumbs (we always dry out all our old bread for breadcrumbs - why wouldn't you?) Wrong again, large chunks simply seemed to rotate uncut till you gave up and took the bread chunks out and chopped them, again by hand, into manageable chunks.

Pushing optimism further we attempted to attack a bag of carrots with the rotating knife last Saturday... The plastic safety clip, that you need to engage before the motor will start only went and snapped off! So after less than a dozen uses, it has been chucked in the garden, where I might plant a flower in it, as that would be a more apt use of it. 😠

So, if you're looking for a fifty-quid food processor that neither grates, crumbs nor shreds, I'd thoroughly recommend you buy yourself anything by VonShef! I, on the other hand, will not be buying anything by them ever again, just in case!


There are certain experiences in life that you just don't get if you never have kids... profound things like receiving a coffee cup in the shape of a lama for your birthday! 😀

Into the bargain, it's actually impossible to drink out of because its head gets in the way!😐


When I was growing up in Scotland, I learned to pronounce this word with an 'a' sound like in cat, but most people older than me seemed to pronounce it with the 'a' from cake, more like today's US pronunciation. Nowadays, the kids tend only to encounter my pronunciation, but older teachers do occasionally use the other. This morning I had to laugh as Léon and Anna were having a bitch about one such teacher who they'd both encountered in primary school. Hearing it with my (dare-I-admit-to-it?) 50 year-old ears, their understanding of the older pronunciation had never occurred to me but Léon summed it up this morning as 'Of course, it's transparent (like in cat), because transparent just sounds like your dad hangs about in a dress!' 😃

Saturday, February 03, 2018

One flash

It was Wednesday just after lunch. I was sitting at my living room window, reading Twitter on my computer when the hailstones began to fall. 'Wow, they're big', I thought to myself. So I picked up my mobile from the arm of my chair and pressed record, so I could show Thomas, who was in Edinburgh, the storm when he got home.

Within the first ten seconds after I started to film out my window, there was a flash and less than a second later the loudest thunder I have ever heard, including electric storms I've lived through in southern Europe. So shocked, you can see I nearly drop my phone(, while discussing religion with myself!) I continued to film for two more minutes but there was nothing. It was the most violent and the shortest electric storm of my life.

I stopped and pressed upload, but the Internet was down, which it definitely hadn't been less than two minutes earlier. I brought up the available connections, my two router extensions were listed but not the main house router that runs the whole thing... weird.

I went through to the router and no lights were on. Had the one flash blown up my router? I was seriously doubtful. I unplugged it and plugged it in again, nothing. I lifted my phone to ring Sky to report the fault, the phone was dead too. On inspection all my phones were also dead.

I got through to Sky on my mobile, they tested my lines, said they could do nothing and booked me an engineer for Friday. In the meantime, mum, who lives three streets away phoned to tell me neither of her TVs were working. Could one flash really do that?

The engineer arrived on Friday morning, exclaiming he was rushed off his feet as call-outs in my area had increased 10-fold in two days. In fact, he even had three more call-outs in my own street! I showed him the video on my phone (see above). The storm had actually hit my street!!! A house further up now had a tarpaulin on the roof where the one flash of lightning had blown a hole in their roof and unlike us they seemed fairly unconcerned, according to the engineer who had seen them, about the demise of their router. You see, the lightning had melted all the wiring in their house, inside their walls and sockets and of course had blown up everything that had been plugged in - their fridge, cooker, freezer, phones, TVs, computers, you name it. My house was just 100 metres from the strike. How scary is that?

So we're £120 down and Mum's engineer still hasn't been round so I fear her TVs may be fried but I'll update this once we hear.

Update: Final count at mum's was one satellite dish, two Sky receivers, one amplifier!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


AKA irritable bowel syndrome...

I've been thinking a lot about IBS recently and researching it again. It's not because I'm hitting an age when I'm supposed to start talking incessantly about my bowels, but more because I never really do, talk about my bowels that is... Talking about your bowels doesn't tend to increase your friend numbers! The research is more to do with self-preservation.

No one who reads this blog is likely to have an inkling, given my reticence on the subject, that IBS plays a huge role in my life. I had my first run-in with it when I was still at uni in the 80s. All would be fine, then suddenly about once a month, I'd wake up bloated, in pain and unable to go to the loo. It would take a good two or three days of being extra careful before things would generally right themselves and I'd breathe a huge sigh of relief, well until the next time. And so that was the pattern I lived with through my twenties and thirties, some years worse than others, but on the whole bearable. Whenever things would get really bad, I'd be sent off for the usual, coelic and Crohn's testing, barium meal, endoscopy, colonoscopy, CAT scan or MRI and then I'd be told - 'Don't worry, it's just irritable bowel syndrome.'

Then it all changed. I contracted the worst bout of the winter vomiting virus in my life in the winter of 2012. I actually felt like my insides snapped. Sometimes I think they did. I woke up the next morning with my IBS playing up and assumed it'd all be back to normal in two or three days, it wasn't, and I'm still waiting... Every single day since winter 2012 has been marked by galloping indigestion, bloating (usually about 2 sizes over the course of a day), a feeling as if someone is sticking a red-hot poker right through the upper half of my stomach, lower back pain, muscle spasms in my intestine, an inability to go to the loo, exhaustion, need I go on? Interestingly, I recently discovered most sufferers can trace the beginning back to a viral/food poisoning episode.

The funny thing is - when you have these symptoms once a year, you take a sick day and lie in bed trying to get over them, but you can't do that when every day is a sick day, so I fully suspect those who suffer from IBS are probably amongst the workers who take the fewest sick days.

Anyway, I'm not looking for any miracle cures (unless anyone happens to have one) or sympathy. What I'm actually on to suggest is a change of name... You see irritable is just wrong - it's kind of like 'my baby's a little irritable today...' And that makes people think it is a minor inconvenience. If I had a pound for every doctor who has told me 'Don't worry, it's only IBS'... What sufferers actually need is a GP who happens to suffer from it! Irritable trivialises something that is actually quite difficult to live with. For starters, you can't wear clothes! That's a bit of a problem in a climate like Scotland. Anyone who thinks I tend to spend 85% of time in leggings because I think I have the figure for them, think again! Even the elastic in tights irritates my insides, so it's leggings all winter, dresses in the summer and pain whenever I have to dress formally for a business meeting. Then there's food - most self help books tell you to follow a low-FODMAP diet - ie eliminate these (see the lists with the reddish background) from your diet, ie eat as if you are a lactose intolerant coeliac sufferer who doesn't like spice, coffee or anything fried - that doesn't leave you with much scope! You also have to try to keep your stress levels low - it's not like my life has been in anyway stressful for the last decade, is it? (Did someone say Brexit?) It is physically and emotionally draining.

So without further ado, here's my list of suggestions:
Agonising bowel syndrome
Excruciating bowel syndrome
Red-hot poker bowel syndrome
Somebody's-tied-a-knot-in-your bowel syndrome
I'm-so-physically-exhausted-by-this bowel syndrome
Who-needs-to-poo-anyway bowel syndrome
You-can't-eat-what!? bowel syndrome
Can't-remember-what-normal-feels-like bowel syndrome
Will-this-ever-end bowel syndrome

Or in fact, maybe we could drop the word 'bowel' from it too, then sufferers might set up self-help groups instead of assuming the subject should be taboo!

I've never actually used this emoji before, but it seems kind of appropriate!


Thursday, January 25, 2018

Friday, January 19, 2018

Poor Chuggy

So there I was (last week, before the snow!) minding my own business in the shopping centre car park, stopped in a long line of maybe eight stationary vehicles waiting for the front car in the line to turn into their chosen parking space when I saw a black Ford Fiesta backing out of its space cautiously. Charlotte was in the passenger seat and she turned to me and said 'I don't think they have seen us, mum!' I had come to the same conclusion at the same moment so tooted my horn to alert the driver that my Fiat (and the other eight cars he had seemingly failed to notice) were at his back. I expected he'd stop at that point but instead he pressed his accelerator fully down to the floor and flew at the side of my stopped Chuggy at a speed I had never seen a car reverse at!

Charlotte screamed, expecting the side of the car to crush her two legs. (It didn't, thank goodness). Léon, who was in the seat behind her, shouted 'Woah!', and Anna who was behind me burst into tears. I stepped out the car to see Methuselah himself step out of the Ford. He looked a bit like you'd imagine Basil Fawlty's grandfather might have looked; tall, grey, gangly, open-mouthed in shock. I was gobsmacked. 'What did you just do to my daughter?!' came involuntarily from my mouth before I calmed down enough to ask him his details. He looked surprised and managed 'I got mixed up between my pedals' before his wife ranted that he only had two given it was an automatic, so how had he managed to floor the accelerator trying to do an emergency stop!?

Anyway, he gave me his details, admitted all liability (in front of the witnesses) and trundled off (banished to the passenger seat) while I went about my shopping.

Chuggy's away now getting a new door and wing and I'm playing about with my free Nissan Juke hire car - I quite fancy trading the Ipsilon in for one of them, it's very nippy as well as feeling safe and heavy.

Interestingly, when I took my Chuggy to the coach builders for an assessment and a quote, the receptionist who was reading through my case told me that over the past decade she has seen a huge increase in the number of older pensioners in my area who run into other cars and then, because they are rather wealthy and they do not want the DVLA alerted to their little driving misdemeanours, come with the person they have hit and offer to pay their repairs and courtesy car cash so they do not need to go through their insurance. Basically they are paying to insure their car because it is illegal not to, but not reporting crashes so they don't lose their licences.

My elderly gentleman has gone through his insurance so will likely have to prove he's still trustworthy behind a wheel (I would say that if a pedestrian had been walking behind his car when he reversed, he'd easily have broken their pelvis or legs at the speed he hit me), but it is alarming to think the there are many unroadworthy drivers out there who are bypassing the system so they can keep their cars long beyond a point when they maybe should.

I fully realise that if you drive everywhere, losing that right is terrifying and isolating, but is it really as terrifying as potentially crushing someone's child against another car?

Monday, January 08, 2018

The 'Millennium bug'

It occurred to me the other day when I was mentioning Charlotte being a real 'millennium baby' that those of you who didn't have a baby that week might not have been fully aware of the ridiculous hoo-ha surrounding the millennium bug!

At my last antenatal visit before Charlotte's birth Y2K bug hysteria had reached a crescendo. The press was full of scare stories that all computer systems and all systems driven by computers were about to fail and we'd be plunged back into the dark ages! I wish I'd kept the actual hand-out I was given by the Queen Mother's hospital but I didn't realise years down the line that it might become a quirky and fun historical document. What I do remember of it is the following:

  • Don't phone an ambulance to take you to hospital in labour as the system risked being down, use a taxi instead, or better still your own car
  • Bring a torch in case the lighting system failed
  • Bring a photocopy of your medical notes in case the hospital couldn't access them on their system
  • Bring a sleeping bag in case the heating system failed
  • Bring extra warm clothes and hats for the newborn
  • Prepare your relatives for the possibility they might need to cook all your meals at home and bring them in to you
  • Don't panic about complications as the one generator they had hired would be used to run theatre for emergency caesareans
  • And finally, one that wasn't technology related: Be prepared to wait as there would no doubt be a rush given the huge number of millennium babies predicted across the world!
I was somewhat bemused and not overly worried given she was not my first baby. I went into labour at lunchtime on 3-1-2000, so they'd had fully two days plus to sort out any glitches. I made my own way to hospital (I lived five minutes away) at 8pm and it was dead. There were no other mums in labour that I could see, the lights were on, even the fairy lights on a tiny, scabby Xmas tree in the corner of the deserted ward seemed to be working. The radiators were hot, the fridges on and it was pretty much a repeat of my stay when I had had Marcel two years earlier! I was the only one in my ward as the great millennium rush hadn't materialised either. Definitely a bit of an anticlimax!

The baby photographer presented everyone born that week with one of these special frames!

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The 'Millennium baby' has turned 18!

How old does that statement make you feel? Wasn't the millennium new year about five years ago?

I remember when Marcel turned 18 I did a collage of photos to see how he aged through the years. I will do the same below with Charlotte, to see how the last 18 years have changed her (or not)...

So here is her lifetime so far in 19 images:

Charlotte aged 8 weeks, 1, 2, 3 and 4 years (it's interesting to see her eyes didn't change from blue to green till she was 4!)

Charlotte aged 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 years

Charlotte aged 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 years

Charlotte aged 15, 16, 17 and 18 years

It has actually been an interesting exercise. If you had asked me an hour ago, without showing me any photos, I would have said that Charlotte has not changed at all since about 2009, because she has not significantly changed her hair since then, but when I look at the photos side by side, she has actually changed quite a bit.

It will be interesting to see what the next few years have in store for her as she moves on to university. Things are still up in the air as she hasn't fully decided what or where to study, but watch this space!