A pumpkin is for life, not just for Halloween…

Happy Halloween to all of you who celebrate such things. I don’t. For the last few years I’ve been trying to work out why not. Sometimes I think, “oh stop being so bloody miserable and give out some chocolate to the kids, it doesn’t do any harm!” But that feeling only lasts as long as it then takes me to think, “but it’s just weird having children I don’t know knock on my door to beg for sweets.” So I don’t do anything.

I realise of course, there’s more to Halloween than trick or treating. Pagan festivals, celebrating the turn of the seasons, days of the dead and all that stuff. None of which has even really interested me. And after all, those things are mainly drowned out by the ghastly commercialism of having to dress up and beg for sweets… I’m glad E is still too small for this.

2014-10-25 15.22.35But having said all that, we were visiting my mum and sister at the weekend and my sister thought it would be good to go to a pick your own pumpkin event at Hoo, in Kent. I had absolutely no idea what this would entail so we all piled over there in anticipation. My sister, C, had managed to pack things like wooly hats and gloves for the children and her wellies. E, who we struggle to keep a hat on, and who often waves her gloves about was enchanted by wearing her cousin’s things. This is typical. I, on the other hand, clomped about in knee high heeled boots, sunglasses and a skirt.

E enjoys a ride...

E enjoys a ride…

Essentially, the event was held on a farm who had grown loads of pumpkins, left them in a field and let the public come in to pick their own. There were masses of them and the event was incredibly popular, with at least one lady dressing as a witch for the occasion. We soon got into the spirit of the thing, despite not really being big Halloween people. The children loved the wheelbarrow – both E and her cousin rode in it, and E liked to push it as well. And they loved finding pumpkins and carrying them across to put in the barrow.

It’s funny, you start off saying, oh just one maybe for carving or something, and soon you find different kinds, with different markings and colours and before you know it you’ve got at least 14 pumpkins and gourds in the barrow. It was great fun. Some of the gourds aren’t edible but look so decorative. This pile cost us £14, with profits going to charity. 2014-10-25 17.25.59

We stopped for a drink and so the children could have their picture taken with a skeleton. The farm cannily gave out samples of pumpkin jam and chutney, with recipes on their website. I have also found a pumpkin bread recipe and the chutney will use up the rest, combined with the four enormous Bramley apples my mum’s neighbour gave us. Watch this space for a report if it goes well.

It was a lovely afternoon, the weather and the atmosphere was a lot of fun and for that reason alone, I feel more Halloween-y this year. But I’m still not buying any chocs for the trick or treaters…

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A clothing mountain

We’ve just returned from a weekend visiting my mum and my sister. My sister, C, has just had a baby – a girl, another E and so I’m an aunt for the second time. Hooray! We took some presents down and spent an enjoyable time smelling E’s hair and trying to put more effort into picking her up than was actually needed. (She’s about the same weight, at a month old, as E was at birth and I;m used to hefting a toddler about so nearly flung poor new E up in the air.)

Anyway, one of the reasons I was so glad my sister has had a girl was that I could clear out some of E’s clothes which have been languishing in the loft and under her bed for months. Aside from a few neutral ones I gave to a friend a while back, we have kept all E’s clothes since she was born. Even so, the amount of them was still a shock.

clothesBearing in mind she’s still wearing some which are a range of sizes between 1 1/2- 2 1/2 years, this is ridiculous.

We didn’t buy all these, you understand. At least three lovely friends with girls sent us some cast offs, for which I was incredibly grateful, plus my sister lent us some vests from her boy who had grown out of them. (I’ve not been able to return all of those as they were not all stain free. Oh the shame of it.) And we were given some as gifts too. So we only bought a few.

I sorted some into a bag for nursery (either those which were too stained to suit or that I didn’t think my sister would like) and still managed to take new E three black sacks full. This included sleeping bags, moon suits and a lot of tights. There may well be some things C decides are too manky and worn to use so she can do with them what she wants. But still, the house feels a little lighter now they’ve gone.

I did get sentimental over a couple of things and couldn’t bring myself to give one of her early sleepsuits away. It sits in a box with her Bruce Springsteen and Princess Bride t shirts. I held each item up saying “do you remember this?” Of course she didn’t but she liked the game and soon held everything up for me, saying ” do you remember this?” making a mockery of my sentimental mood.

I read somewhere that children mainly wear outfits about 12 times before they grow out of them. I’m pretty sure most of E’s clothes have passed that milestone but couldn’t say for sure with all of them. I guess that one day we’ll see a day where we don’t have to have a whole set of spares available for when she’s thrown her dinner down them, wet herself or fallen over, but those days seem far away at the moment. She goes to nursery each day with spare tights, trousers, leggings, 2 tops, 4 pairs of pants, socks and a cardigan. I do the washing 2-3 times a week.

Still, for now, we have a nice neat room and fewer bags of flammable material in the loft. And I got to cuddle a new member of the family and received some belated birthday gifts! So a good weekend all round.




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Frank talking about poo

A few weeks ago I expressed my concerns about how to potty train. It seemed a minefield to me. But here we are on the other side, or almost. E is pretty good with weeing in a potty these days, though she is still delighted when it goes right, often clapping at herself and smiling. And of course, when you’ve got into the swing of saying encouraging things to make sure she knows what to do, it becomes second nature to comment each time too, so we often have a chat, “Look at that wee!” This is parenthood.

This evening we came home and S and I were in the kitchen when we heard a small voice tell us that she needed a wee. She was standing in the dining room with trousers and pants around her ankles looking up at us. Nothing like being prepared…

Of course, the advice tells you not to yell if they make a mess or a puddle and we haven’t. Of course this means that once you start saying it’s ok if there’s wee on the floor, there’s then the mindset that it is, actually, ok to wee on the floor. E has pointed at the floor, told me she’s weed on it and repeated that it’s ok. All I can think of to say is that next time on the potty ok? Anyway, as I say, she’s pretty much there.

Portable foldable potties, if you haven’t got one, with plastic bags with soak-up-able pads in, are excellent though probably a killer for the environment. But in PC World the other day, we were able to get her to wee without any fuss and no one noticed, just by whipping the portable potty out of my bag and wrapping the wee up quickly. Then we bought new PC speakers and left. Had I not had the foldable potty there would, I’m sure, been wet pants and an upset toddler.

When it comes to poo, there’s a different story. E gets very upset when she poos in her pants but has mostly refused to sit on the potty to do it either. The other week she had an upset tummy and was heartbroken to find nastiness in her nappy we’d put on as a precaution. I have no idea who to encourage her except to remain calm. But if she gets upset either way, it’s hard to know how to carry on.

She’s so interested in it, which I also find hilarious. She likes to look in the toilet and wave goodbye to the wee before we flush. And she loves her pants. Especially her Paul Frank monkey pants.

So far I’m just grateful that she hasn’t talked about it on the bus but it’s only a matter of time, I’m sure.

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20 years on…

I’ve been pondering what to write in this blog post all day. It’s 20 years today since my dad died, and one of the first years where I’ve remembered the occasion on the day. I usually forget.

One of the main reasons I remembered is that I’ve been chatting to a counsellor about dad, among some other things. I had some concerns about not having many positive memories of my dad, partly tied up with the mess surrounding his death. I think this is also somewhat tied up with watching S with E, and seeing them interact, which is a very different relationship to how I remember being with my dad. S is patient, and does things like make playdough shapes, or drawings of dinosaurs. S wanted a girl precisely because he thought little girls adore their dads more. It’s an odd perspective to me, partly because I can see how much he respects and admires his own dad.

Anyway, I didn’t want this to be a miserable post. So here are the positive things I remember:

  • Lying on the floor in the front room, leaning against the seat cushion from his chair which was propped up against the chair, with one of Dad’s arms round me, his eyes fixed on the western on TV
  • Getting lost in the library on campus as we looked round the university I went to and getting the giggles together as we stumbled through the “silent study” section, provoking furious looks from students
  • Singing along to his music tapes in the car, with him banging his hand between the steering wheel and the window in time to the song
  • His efforts to encourage me to be a journalist, helping find work experience in a newspaper office and buying a word processor

Here’s what I also remember, after his death:

  • Standing at the leaving ceremony from school with my mum, both of us thinking that he was also there somewhere, feeling proud of me
  • Standing on the shore at Seahouses, Northumberland, where his ashes were eventually scattered, and realising how lovely it was there
  • Standing in front of the pyramid stage at Glastonbury watching one of his favourites Kenny Rogers and crying through The Gambler, conflicted yet glad that I was alive to see him

It’s an odd thing, trying to live up to the expectations of someone who’s no longer there. It’s an odd thing, to realise that your memories are incomplete and ill formed. It’s an odd thing to have no idea how to explain to your daughter (in a few years’ time perhaps) what her grandfather was like, when you’ve no clear idea yourself. I don’t know how we would have interacted as adults. I hated his politics. I don’t have a glittering career. On the other hand, I have a book soon to be published. I have pieces published in journals and magazines. I have a lovely daughter.

I have marked today by sending my sister a cd of music that reminds us of him, and sitting and listening to it this evening while I write reviews and blogs, sipping a glass of red wine and raising it to toast the old bastard.

Rest in peace old man.

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I swear by it

Pas devant les enfants, as they say in France. Merde, as they also say in France. Yes, today’s topic is swearing in front of the children. We’ve all done it.

A colleague today said that her son repeated her “shit!” the other day when she let that slip, but of course he never repeats anything his father says. E, on the other hand, won’t often hear her father swear but happily repeated my curses at the back gate that had stuck in the rain the other day. “Fuck’s sake!” she repeated cheerfully. Oh dear.

In my defence, it was raining, I had to put her down, struck my shoulder on the pushchair as I did so and needed two hands to wrench the gate open in order for us to leave. We’re always in a hurry in the mornings.

She’s still perhaps a little too young to know what she should and shouldn’t be saying but I reckon it’s only a short amount of time before she knows exactly the difference between the good and bad things to say. So I need to rein in my language. I do try. I’m quite good most of the time.

The other thing is that of course right now we can get away with laughing this off. In a few year’s time I could be called into school to discuss E being a bad influence by swearing in the playground. How do you discourage children from swearing? Surely ignoring them is only going to get you so far.

I realise that swearing is more common these days – in media, in the street – than it used to be. Yet I do still feel that it isn’t old fashioned to ask that children don’t do it, or realise that they could cause offence. There are situations when there’s nothing for it than a loud “FUCK!” but the rest of the time you can, if you try, give it a bit of thought before speaking. I had a manager once who only swore in the presence of senior staff at manager’s meetings – I always assumed it was to try and make him feel more secure and in authority. Completely unnecessary.

So I guess for now the only thing to do is to rein in my curses, and sit E down when she does start saying these words and telling her that she shouldn’t give free voice to them either. Without sounding like a boring prude.

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Road sense

Pedestrian crossings don’t leave enough time for elderly folk to cross safely, says a new campaign. Children who are learning to cross roads safely have trouble too – or rather their mothers do.

Of course, what’s supposed to happen by law is that the beeping noise gets you about two-thirds of the way and the car driver waits for you to finish before driving away. In reality this doesn’t happen and no one polices it so the drivers win and pedestrians get honked at. Yet another example of car culture taking over and, I’d argue, buggering up places for everyone else.

I’m having a road safety moment for two reasons. The first is that I’ve started running again and managed to get into a proper routine three times a week. Some of these are in the dark after work and so I run along the ring road as it’s lit and busy into the evening. They are expanding the ring road in places and one of the runner’s friends – the zebra crossing – has been removed and replaced with a pelican crossing – a push button. So no longer can I expect cars to stop as I approach but I have to wait for them – jogging on the spot and losing momentum. A little thing perhaps, but little things are important. As a pedestrian I learn my place – get behind the needs of exhaust-pumping noise-making fuel burning cars with your foot travel.

The second is that E is into transport at the moment. She loves watching buses, lorries, cars, tractors and the like – having many toys of the same. But if we stand on the pavement and watch as a lorry goes past she shrinks into my legs or turns away because she seems scared by it. I’m not sure if it’s the size or the noise or both. Once it’s past she’s ok to watch it again. I can try and reassure her but I feel a fraud. It’s one thing saying “it can’t hurt you” as we stand as a hulking great thing drives past us, but it could hurt her very easily and I don’t want to dismiss her fears which seem sensible to me.

Teaching her to cross roads hasn’t been too bad so far. She is good at holding my hand and I try to hurry her over so she learns not to dawdle. And of course she likes pressing the button at crossings. But we live in an area with no driveways so there are a lot of parked cars to negotiate in order to get anywhere. A recent 20 mph speed limit is not really noticed or enforced and we regularly watch cars race past us on our way to nursery each morning.

I always listened to people talking about how having children changed their driving habits – justifying them buying those ghastly people carriers, or driving more carefully. In my case it seems to have put me off driving altogether.

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Adulting, part 2

kitchen 2

Machinery and whizzy kitchen stuff all over the place.

Machinery and whizzy kitchen stuff all over the place.

Picture a kitchen. It has a white grained plastic sink. It has white laminate worktops. It has two strange bars on each worktop that you can use for parallel bar work if you’re too cheap to go to the gym. It has really high cupboards that you can’t reach easily if you’re my height. The worktops are falling off the wall as I had to remove the built in fridge and freezer when they died and replace them with stand alone white goods that run from a series of extension leads around the room.

Spot the crappy unit at the end. Barely useful to anyone

Spot the crappy unit at the end. Barely useful to anyone

Plates stacked on open shelves, mismatched units...

Plates stacked on open shelves, mismatched units…

It has flooring which is peeling, terrible tiles that you painted over to obliterate the design which are now peeling too, or dripping food that doesn’t seem to wash off. It has a strange area at one end with a wall cupboard and some very thin tiny shelves that are only a cup’s height. And it has an oven which chucks out more heat than the pits of hell, which sat nicely next to a freezer – one that unsurprisingly needed frequent defrosting.

That has now gone. After 13 years of screaming in frustration, beating worktops with wooden spoons, spilling food as I try to reach it on a shelf and gazing with longing at nice kitchens on TV, I now have a new kitchen. We were able to afford it thanks to an Income Tax rebate and a PPI claim. There’s something doubly satisfying about buying something you’ve treasured with money from financial services screw ups.

Look at that easy to clean worktop...

Look at that easy to clean worktop…

The new kitchen (from Ikea) was fitted by nice men over a period of four days of chaos. I took the fifth day off to move everything back into the new space. It all feels very solid. Much more solid than the old one. There is more storage. So much that I could also revamp the back porch. I have a larder! It already smells of spices. The worktops are black. The sink is stainless steel. Both of these are easy to clean. I can throw the bleach away. The oven doesn’t leak enough heat to warm a legion of old ladies. We celebrated the fact that we have a working grill by making cheese on toast – a dish denied to us for years…



The tiling was done last week by Andy at the excellently named Grout and About. We just need to get the flooring done. And a lick of paint.  Some wag once said that you know you’re grown up when you prefer home to a night club, but in that case I was always grown up. I’ve also gone mad and got some new storage items – a new kitchen needs not to have jars that didn’t used to be old plastic Ovaltine jars. Everything doesn’t have to match but it would be nice to have things that aren’t ramshackle make-dos you put up with when you were a student/ impoverished bookseller.

We waited a long time for this meal

We waited a long time for this meal

I’ve never yearned for something so long that has actually happened. It’s really nice, isn’t it?

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