Thursday, August 16, 2018

Charlotte's school leaver's certificate

I thought I'd sneak out a wee post about this while she's in Spain, on the beach at a wifi-free zone, because she'd probably be mortified at my public celebration of her hard work and dedication! 

What can I say? It speaks for itself, and I'm sure she will continue to devote her incredible work ethic to her future uni studies too! It's a shame they don't put the bands on in Scotland as they do in England, as she got a band one in everything she has ever sat other than Higher History, which she missed by 1%! Not being home, she hasn't found out this year's bands yet, but they were all ones at the prelim stage too. I guess she can go and see school once she comes home.

This is one proud mummy. I must have done something ok over the years.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Distraction tactics

Today is the day I have been semi-dreading since Amaia started nursery in 2013! At nursery she was home by lunch time and for the past three years she has had school lunches provided by the Scottish government, but today was pay day! Either I start coughing up £2 approx per day for lunch, or she needs to take sandwiches. A tenner a week isn't dire, of course, but when you multiply it by the number of kids I have, it is a non-starter, and I can't exactly be seen to be giving Amaia preferential treatment simply because she is better at stubborn stand-offs, so it is all or none.

The problem is Amaia hates sandwiches. For years I thought she was just being annoying and fussy until it suddenly occurred to me that there was actually a logic to her whole standpoint. In Amaia's head savoury food is hot, sweet food is cold. She'll eat a gammon steak or a slice of bacon but a gammon or ham sandwich is entirely unacceptable. Salami, chorizo or serrano ham is something you get hot on a pizza, not a cold sandwich filler, and until recently cheese had to be melted on toast or on a pizza. Our one saving grace is her huge love of salad. 

It's odd as she's not a fussy eater in general - she eats most things including the most exotic spicy dishes filled with hot chillis, but that savoury hot, sweet cold rule in her mind is hard to break. She won't eat cold boiled eggs though loves eggs. She waits for things like apple crumble to cool down before eating it... She also used to hate ice cream as it was too cold! If a meal cools down half way though, she stops eating altogether until we permit her to leave the table and reheat it in the microwave!

I could of course solve it by giving her only jam, honey and chocolate spread for the next ten years but I suspect my dentist friends would have something to say about that, so it's not happening!

So distracted by a cute hamster, her name in bubble writing and a compartmentalised box, she's gone in today with a buttered piece of bread, some tomatoes, cucumber and mixed stuffed olives. ***

Hopefully some time over the next year I will get the filling into the sandwich!

***Update: Well, today was a complete disaster! The juice from the olives leaked onto the bread and the custard creams (that I didn't even know she'd sneaked in 😂) so she came home and made super noodles as she'd eaten nothing at school. Tomorrow we're going to try lots of tiny Tupperware boxes 🤔

Back to school

So another year begins. s2, p4, and p7 - the magical year, or rather the one that is meant to be magical anyway. Most of p7 focuses on growing up, maturing, preparing to leave the only school you've ever known, and widening your friend group to prepare for a class full of strangers, with the odd familiar face. For Anna, this was always going to be a poignant year, as she is one of the youngest in her class and unlike her three predecessors, not quite as full of joy to venture onwards and upwards. I have no doubts that by next June Kirkhill will have worked its wonders and got her ready and excited for Mearns Castle, but she definitely isn't going into p7, desperate to rush out the other side!

With Brexit, it's going to be an even harder year for Anna. While her friends feel anxious at the thought of moving together to a school ten minutes away, Anna has at the back of her head that this could be her last year in an English-speaking school, in the only country she's ever known as home with all the friends she has in the world. With a deal already negotiated, she would have had a full year to psych herself up, even for the unthinkable to her, which would be moving abroad to a school speaking Danish, or worse still one speaking a language she doesn't know many words of, such as German, but with the government's dithering and game-playing, lives of families, adults and children alike, are up in the air. At fifty I am finding it hard to prepare myself mentally for what lies ahead, as I ride the roller coaster of  'today we probably have to leave, tomorrow we maybe don't' over and over and over with every new headline and reneged promise. What this is doing to the mental health of our ten year olds is unimaginable and also unforgivable.

Let's hope she gains some clarity soon, and hope even harder it is clarity which will allow her life to go on happily as it always has with her wonderful friends in her lovely school, following in the footsteps of her older siblings.

Les frontaliers

My French family lived 4km from the French-German border. They all lived in France and spoke French at home, but they all worked in greater Saarbrücken and spoke German at work. They were known as frontaliers - people whose lives take place equally on both sides of a border.

My Danish family, for the most part, live in Copenhagen and again have been known to work on the other side of that Bridge, in Sweden. Again they are people whose lives take place equally on either side of the border.

Had I moved to France or Denmark, there is a great chance I too would have become a frontalière. 

When the Tory government decided to exclude this type of British emigrant (I refuse to segregate them using the superior 'expat', as they are no different to people like my Danish husband or French ex-husband, who simply chose to exercise their EU treaty rights by working in a fellow member state) from the Brexit vote two years ago, they showed an outrageous lack of understanding or respect for these people.

Even if they actually bother their arses to negotiate some sort of deal, which at the moment looks slim, they have no concept of what they are doing to these people's lives. If we withdraw from the EU, British citizens living in member states will become landlocked where they live, unable to work in a different EU member state. The government is so ignorant of how people actually live that they haven't even taken into account that this is a completely normal way to live on the continent, where landmasses touch and no borders exist. The people who will be most affected by their idealistic pie-in-the-sky Brexit are those who had no say in the matter - those like my husband, those British citizens relying on work in one member state to pay for their home in another.

They are so blinded by their own insular outlook that they don't even know that this is absolutely normal abroad.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A 25 year mortgage

Twenty-five years ago today, I got the keys to my first west end flat. Top, left, 9 Havelock street. I remember it vividly... Friday 13 August 1993! There was an omen in there if I'd looked for it, I think!😉 I was never the superstitious type, but I do remember thinking it was a funny choice of day to take on a twenty-five year loan.

Our removal men dumped all our furniture (most of which we'd bought at the Barras and various other second-hand places) on the pavement as they couldn't block the single-lane one-way street. An old busy body came marching up the street and looked us up and down... Are you moving in or out? she asked, or rather demanded. In, I replied tentatively. Good! she spat back, 'cause I hated the people before you - loud, dirty, loose morals... OMG, I thought, what have we done?!

Not only did it turn out she lived in number 9, but she lived directly beneath us and having been there since 'the Clydebank blitz', she assumed the role of close-matriarch and acted as if she owned the whole block and made all the rules! She was an absolute nightmare. On numerous occasions I found her in my kitchen going through my fridge and when I learned to lock the storm doors we used to see her beady eyes peering through our waist-height letterbox at various times of the day and night! 

When we decided to sand our floorboards, I elected André to go down and ask if there was any time she was usually out so we could do it then so as not to disturb her. I won't live below sanded floors, was her ever so helpful reply! Every time I hammered in a nail to hang one of my photos, she was up like a shot screaming through our letterbox, and eventually being completely ignored by us as we hid inside giggling. 

After about two years a nephew turned up and carted her off to an old folks' home and peace returned to Havelock street!

So if things had remained as they started out in that flat - with both of us young and reasonably happy, my mortgage would have been up today. No more sending £1000 a month to the Bank of Scotland - boy would that have been nice! But it wasn't to be... we drifted apart and separated 12 years later and so my current mortgage still has twelve more years to run (assuming we get to stay here in the UK).

Would I trade my current husband for no mortgage? You bet I wouldn't! I am older and tireder now, but he and our kids are definitely worth £1000 a month!

Summer holiday 2018

We took off a week at the beginning of the holidays when Thomas's sister was here, and another last week as we had some odds and ends to get sorted. The first was a holiday in the sense that we went up north with a tent for four days in the sunshine. The second was less so as we had one day trip in the grey to celebrate Charlotte's magnificent straight A school-leaving results (she got an A in all 17 SQA exams she took in high school 🌝), but we mostly spent it getting the cooker fixed, and filling in tax forms, having meetings with the accountant, attending family birthday celebrations etc.

Neither, of course, was a holiday in the normal sense. When you work for yourself, a holiday isn't a week's paid leave. It is a week you don't work, don't get paid and which therefore results in your chasing your tail for the following month trying to fit in the five days you dared not to work. Unpaid holidays and contractual obligations are the bane of the freelance life...

As a mixed EU couple, facing mounting concern over a no-deal Brexit, what we really needed this year was to get as far away from the UK and its mind games as possible. While many of you are worrying about the financial prospects of a no-deal Brexit or which brand of baked beans to stockpile, those of us in a 'mixed' marriage face the prospect on March 29 that he loses his right to work and live in the UK, to renew his mortgage package and continue using our GP, on the very same day as I lose my right to flee to the continent with him. In the no-deal scenario, everything that has been negotiated for EU citizens hits the fan and no guidelines for their treatment will exist. We will have to rely on the unilateral goodwill of the Tory party (don't choke on your breakfast!) When we apply to renew our mortgage deal next summer, our bank will have no guidelines on whether he is eligible so I can probably work out the answer to our application already. We are hearing daily of EU citizens whose landlords are refusing to renew their leases as they do not know what their tenants' status will be. And where does that leave children like mine? UK citizens whose parent has no rights in the country in which they were born?

So, this year we could really have done with seven weeks island-hopping in the Cyclades or sitting wifi-less on some remote Mediterranean olive farm. As someone who works from home, I usually crave people on a holiday. My ideal is a city break or a busy beach just to remind myself I am not alone and isolated on this planet, but this year, I really think escaping the world would have been nice. Spending some time alone and unstressed with my husband would have been wonderful as it would have helped us to have built up some mental strength to face the terrifying seven months that lie ahead.

Already yesterday Whatsapp was buzzing with the mums in Anna's class trying to arrange the p7 prom in June 2019. I had to tick that I was interested, but in reality, I have no idea if I will be there taking photos of Anna in a pretty dress, or if I'll have had to pull her from school and leave the country. I'm already a nervous wreck and term hasn't yet begun.

Yesterday Anna actually said to me - When you take this year's back to school photo mum, we should try to make it extra-special in case it is the last ever one here in my home. Ten year olds shouldn't be living with stresses like that!

I am starting the new term more exhausted and stressed than I finished the last one and that is so far from what I need right now.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Happy Birthday

One of these babies weighed in at just shy of ten pounds, starting out life in 3-6 month clothes and looking somewhat like a sumo wrestler, the other was closer to six pounds and looked tiny and dainty. One of these babies is eight years, 207 days old, the other was eight today... So of course, it goes without saying that Amaia wishes her baby cousin a very happy birthday. LOL. (The second photo is just for proof).

I didn't wake up dead

I mentioned my little hang-up back in December... But it would appear that I woke up alive yesterday and even made it all the way through to midnight. I think that might take a few days to digest. I have become the primary Phyllis, after five decades as the subsidiary Phyllis. So from here on in, I'll be winging it, I guess.

Dying yesterday would have sucked. It would have felt like no time at all. My own son is 21. Hers was 24 so there was very little difference there, though obviously she didn't also have kids all the way down to eight. I don't feel terribly different to how I felt at 25; she probably didn't either. Life can be so cruel and unfair at times. My dad never did get over it enough to talk to me in any depth. Only on the day his dad died when I was 22, did we come anywhere close. It took reading his memoirs to really get a feel for how he had dealt with his mum's early death. Everything about my childhood would have been different, had that bit of history changed. I'd have known my granda, or rather Linda would have, as Phyllis the 2nd would never have existed. Instead he was a distant, quiet man, whose façade was impossible to penetrate. Dad would have had a lighter heart too.

I'd like to have known her. Like her son (my father) after her, she died of something that is completely curable today; it was simply caught too late and that is fate's cruellest blow.

I guess from here on in, I should try living a bit for both of us. Here's to Phyllis the first. RIP.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Now you see me, now you don't!

Charlotte has been in Madrid since June living with a Spanish family with two little girls who need a daytime adult to supervise them while their parents are out at work. We've had weekly face-times lamenting the 40 degree weather, the hardships of having your own pool and the sheer trauma of being forced to the restaurant every other night as a thanks for her babysitting! Finally on Wednesday, the parents' own summer break began so she came home to Scotland, fully five days after the wonderful Scottish heatwave threw in the towel.

She turned up in shorts and looked positively frozen. It's fully six weeks till uni starts but only two till the wee ones return to school. Four whole weeks alone, twiddling her thumbs in the drizzle lay ahead.

By day two she was twitching about the weather. I, half-jokingly, said - Why don't you log on to the site where you found the first family, in case anyone else is needing help with their kids. Some people may have contacted you, if you've not been on for a while... 

She logged on for the first time since May. Several emails awaited... She opened the first - a photo of the biggest dog you've ever seen greeted her - someone needing a doggy-sitter wasn't really her cup of tea. She's never been overly fond of dogs, having proclaimed at five that the only good kind of dog is a dead one, preferably with no teeth! 

Message two was from a woman with a Russian name based in Spain. All it said was 'I need an au pair' - no when, no mention of ages, numbers, genders of kids, no info at all. Still - it was a possibility...

She opened the third one and was greeted by a woman on a carousel smiling with two kids around the age of Anna and Amaia. Her message read 'Divorcee seeks company for three week holiday to Alicante. Your duties would be to play with my girls on the beach all day and swim in the sea. I will provide you with your own room in a beach house. I also need someone to accompany me to the restaurant every night at my expense!' Start date was to be next week and finishing fully seven days before freshers' week at Glasgow. It's a hard job obviously, but someone had to make that sacrifice!

Looks like Lotsie is off to Spain again! Tickets booked already. She might just have time to wash out her bikini from last time! God, I wish I was eighteen again. I have Charles Aznavour playing on a loop in my head... Il faut boire jusqu'à l'ivresse sa jeunesse... Wonder if anyone on the internet is looking for a fifty-year-old au pair...🤔