“The man runs and then falls over” Our weekend at the Rugby World Cup

There aren’t many weekends away that are over a year in the planning. But we applied and got tickets for some Rugby World Cup games in Leeds over a year ago, and this weekend we went off to watch them.

This kind of thing is exactly what other families do, right? They go places, have fun, it all looks great. The outer experience belies the frantic preparation and the complete exhaustion that goes on behind the scenes.

Here’s what I packed to take. Travel light, was the advice:

  • Tickets – games and trains
  • Hotel confirmation
  • Maps
  • Train timings
  • Phone chargers
  • Face paints. Wipes.
  • Snacks. Drinks.
  • Sticker book, bedtime reading books.
  • Clean pants, socks, toothbrushes, PJs, tops x 3. Bedtime nappy. Mooncup. Nurofen.
  • Travel kettle (it was a budget hotel)
  • Jumpers. Hat.

Written down it doesn’t look too bad but we decided to make use of the railway station’s left luggage anyway. On the Saturday at least.

When you worry about doing new complicated things with a child, it’s useful to remember how nerdy they are. E is a transport nerd. Trip on a train? Being at a railway station with lots of trains to look at? Further trip on a shuttle bus? Alongside lots of double deckers? Stay in a hotel overlooking the railway line and the bus station? It’s already the weekend that has everything. She loved it. This was the first train trip she can remember and the first since she got into Thomas the Tank Engine so she spent some time telling us who they were from the books (mainly all Gordon, according to her).

The anticipation had been building all week as I’d prepared a pile of things to take. We got onto the second train before she requested getting the face paints out. Obviously this was the train with less space. Still I was pretty impressed with my efforts – a cat which she liked but then rejected, and then a pirate.

Once at the stadium she got really excited, joyfully collecting two flags (one for each country), passing her bag (containing crisps) to security to check and then climbing the stairs to our seats. It was at this point that it occurred to me to mention to her that it might be noisy, so I told her it would be ok to shout if she wanted. Suddenly it clicked with her that the noise she could hear was coming from just round the corner and as she climbed the stairs the excitement grew until we emerged to see the pitch before us. At this she was visibly thrilled – the grass, the men running, the sunshine, all of it was familiar. “Mummy, it’s rugby!”

We took E's Northampton mascot Bernie with us.

We took E’s Northampton mascot Bernie with us.

She enjoyed it all – the atmosphere is so much nicer at rugby games and there were a lot of families there – she loved shouting “come on rugby!”, waving her flags and cheering. She especially loved the Mexican waves where I held her up in the air as it passed us. She clearly didn’t concentrate on the game all the way through – she describes it as the game where “the man runs and then falls over” – but she was fine enough to eat, play and not disturb others near us. This was the same the following day at the next game – I was worried the novelty value may have worn off but she was just as excited then. Also there were more flags.

After both games the queue for the shuttle buses seemed too much to bear so we walked. We went slowly, E taking turns between walking and being carried, so it took about 40 minutes and wore us all out. On the first night, it felt too late to try and find a sensible restaurant that would serve us quickly and with food we all liked so we ended up picking up fish and chips on the way to the hotel, and eating them on the side of our bed when we got in.

The hotel was the final part of the weekend that E loved. I told her it was a special bed – and with a bunk bed over the top of a double bed she was immediately intrigued. It was a small room but she still liked exploring and her face when she found what looked like a cupboard was actually a toilet was quite something.

The three of us lay down together in the dark to get her off to sleep, and she took a while to settle but was fast off in time for us to watch England v Wales. Later, S took the bunk bed and I slept beside her. Or rather, didn’t sleep beside her. To be fair, it was hot in the room and I couldn’t switch my brain off but… how do people who co-sleep actually do it? At one point I found her foot in my face, another she was lying flat against the headboard, another time she sat bolt upright and started crawling at speed towards the end of the bed.

A broken night’s sleep, two days of vigilance and constant alertness to make sure E was ok in a strange situation, walking and carrying her a lot… by the time we reached the railway station to go home I would have killed to have a big bowl of something hot – a curry, a stew, a plate of pasta and sauce, anything – but all railway food seems to be bread based these days. Surely we can do better than this? All I’d had was half a sandwich for lunch and an ice cream. We managed to get an earlier train and got home just before 9pm. E had nodded off on the tram twice and was flopped onto my shoulder as we approached the house. By now I was shattered too – the kind of tiredness that makes you crave death – and as soon as E was asleep in bed and we’d had a cup of tea, we were both in bed too.

So that was the weekend. E loved it. She didn’t want to leave. She’s looking forward to going again next week and getting more flags. I’m really glad it was fun for her, and that she was so good. But here are my questions:

How do other families do this? Do they throw money at their arrangements? Do they drive instead of taking trains? Taxis instead of walking? Stay in posh hotels with room service? Or are they all on some kind of energising drugs? I have never known tiredness like it – of course you do have to be vigilant and alert all the time, just to pay attention to all the things to see, the things E wants to point out to you and so on. And we walked a bit. And carried her a lot. But still. I feel about 100 years old.

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Forty things I love

To celebrate my fortieth birthday today, I decided to write a list. A list of things I love, fond memories I have, items I’m glad to have been alive to experience, and in general a list of loveliness. If all these things were on a desert island, I would be happy. Also because I like making lists. (Disclaimer: this does not include E, who is a lovely experience to trump all of these things, I was really just putting down popular culture, food, places and so on.)

Favourite sandwiches ever:

1, A chicken salad submarine roll in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the chicken was still warm and juicy, the dressing was delicate and herbed, and the bread fresh.

2, A plain salami in a baguette that we ate on the banks of the Seine in September sun on our honeymoon.

Songs to play at my funeral:

3, At the Sea – I Am Kloot

4, This Hard Land – Bruce Springsteen

5, Great Expectations – Elbow

Movie scenes I love:

6, Waltzing through Grand Central Station – The Fisher King

7, “And I said I would never leave you.” “And you never will.” … “Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble but it don’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill o’ beans in this crazy world. Some day you’ll understand that.”

Lines from books that make me weep

8, “In the night she awakened, with the stillness and the darkness about her, and the recollection of the day came over her like a wave of sorrow. She could see Matthew’s face smiling at her as he had smiled when they parted at the gate that last evening – she could hear his voice saying, ‘My girl – my girl that I’m proud of.'” (Freud fans, eat your heart out with that one.)

9, “If there is ever a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember, You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I will always be with you.” (Is anyone spotting a theme here? Let’s try something more cheerful shall we?)

Books that are a part of me:

10, Anne of Green Gables (see 8 above) – LM Montgomery

11, 84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

12, Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

13, Nobody’s Fool – Richard Russo

14, Brother of the More Famous Jack – Barbara Trapido

Songs that are just sooooo beautiful:

15, Where Dreams go to Die – John Grant

16, Verdi Cries – 10,000 Maniacs

17, The Man With the Child in his Eyes – Kate Bush

18, Spin That Girl Around – Euros Childs

Favourite memories of things I’ve seen or done:

19, Sitting in a New York coffee shop aged 21, looking out at the traffic and the people, and thinking “this is exactly what I thought it would be like.” Sometimes your dreams do come true.

20, Glastonbury festival. Especially 2009. Watching The Boss from the mosh pit and taking 2 hours stumbling around before I remembered where our tent was, standing with my sister watching Blur, a lovely peaceful crowd all singing ‘Tender’ together as fire balloons lit the sky… (and then killed cows – don’t ruin it, don’t ruin it…)

21, The Heineken Cup Final 2011. The atmosphere in Cardiff, the welcoming crowds, the game of high ball being kicked about outside the stadium, my front row seat, the disbelief when we scored 3 tries in the first half, the lovely heartfelt commiserations from the victorious Leinster fans, watching the Irish fans shaking Saint’s players hands, and especially Ben Foden hauling Brian O’Driscoll down 5 metres shy of the try line. One of the best days of my life. No idea how I’d have coped if we’d won.

22, Walking the Abel Tasman coast track despite having a twisted ankle. Hidden coves of golden sand, blue sky, blue sea, and one of my favourite companions (the other hadn’t been born yet.)

23, Sitting with my sister and teaching Simon how to do his first and only tequila slammer on the eve of our wedding.

24, Drinking much beer with friends on Brighton beach and watching fireworks on the 50th anniversary of VE Day. Getting the munchies, walking to the nearest pub to find it full of older people waving union flags and singing Vera Lynn songs, using their toilet, ordering 10 packets of crisps and walking out again.

Songs to play loudly when in need of female empowerment:

25, Standing the Way of Control – Gossip

26, Because the Night – Patti Smith

27, Make Your Own Kind of Music – Mamas and Papas

Favourite lines from The West Wing:

28, Leo (White House Chief of Staff on the phone to to the New York crossword to complain they’ve spelled Gaddafi wrong): “My name? My name is not important. I’m just an ordinary citizen who uses the New York Times crossword for stimulation. And I’m telling you I’ve met the man twice and I’ve ordered a pre-emptive Exocet strike against his air force so I think I know what I’m talking about… they hang up on me.”

29, President Jed Bartlet accepting a Congressional censure: “Nobody in politics takes responsibility any more. I did this.”

30, Bruno Gianelli, campaign manager (played by Ron Silver, big Republican): “Because I’m tired of working for candidates who make me think that I should be embarrassed to believe what I believe, Sam! I’m tired of getting them elected! We all need some therapy, because somebody came along and said, “‘Liberal’ means soft on crime, soft on drugs, soft on Communism, soft on defense, and we’re gonna tax you back to the Stone Age because people shouldn’t have to go to work if they don’t want to!” And instead of saying, “Well, excuse me, you right-wing, reactionary, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-education, anti-choice, pro-gun, Leave It To Beaver trip back to the Fifties…!”, we cowered in the corner, and said, “Please. Don’t. Hurt. Me.” No more.”

The best food in the world

31, My grandma’s apple pie

32, My mum’s trifle

33, E’s cupcakes, covered in hundreds and thousands scattered with a sticky hand

34, Fish and chips by the sea

Pets with a place in my heart

35, Jason (black labrador from my childhood. Soft, loveable, loyal.)

36, Poppy (border collie cross, rescued and brought home to replace Jason. Nervous, funny, destroyer of cardboard tubes.)

37, Spencer (black labrador brought home when Mum couldn’t resist him as a puppy. Mad, stomach of iron, at my side when the oven blew up in our faces)

38, Arly (beautiful yellow, green and purple gecko lizard. Liked crickets and walking on my back.)


Stationery I have loved

39, Big forgiving lined notebooks with embroidered covers

40, Sharpies.



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This is me

Sunday is my fortieth birthday. If I believe the cliches, I should celebrate by embarking on a mid-life crisis, panicking about all the things I’ve not done yet and buying a leather jacket in an effort to recapture my youth. But I can’t be arsed. I think forty brings a lot of freedoms. Caitlin Moran said 39 was the age when you no longer had to have an opinion on Morrissey. I’d add forty is when you’re happy knowing that even if you think your opinion is a minority one, it probably isn’t, and who cares anyway?

So I decided it might be nice to write a post that basically says here I am, I’m happy with who I am and here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

I am a daughter, sister, wife, friend and, much to the surprise of my 20-year old self, a mother. I am an autumnal person who likes “trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace” and conkers and plum crumble and pulling on jumpers and knee high boots.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but all of my jobs have involved some kind of writing so I’ll stick with that.

I’ve turned into one of those people who uses a piece of machinery, in this case, my bicycle, without necessarily knowing how to maintain or repair it. This would disgust my father.

Other behaviour that would disgust my father (or at the least make him laugh) includes: reading The Guardian and, worse, The New Statesman; honking support to striking firemen; wearing Doc Martens; voting Labour.


How you get round this in a digital age I have no idea but John Waters’ advice telling people “if you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them” is still right. I don’t care (see earlier point) if that makes me elitist, books are a necessity, not a luxury.

Although I qualify this point by also saying, never read a book with a boat on the cover.

Sali Hughes wrote last week about how working in the service industry makes you a better person. I absolutely believe this. If someone is rude to shop assistants/ waiters/ call centre staff, don’t fuck them.

Plus working in a service industry (in my case, bookshops) gives you good friends and silly memories – yes I stood in torrential rain at 2am wearing a witch’s outfit telling a man that he couldn’t buy the final Harry Potter from us as I was closing the store, yes I fainted in front of 300 Bret Easton Ellis fans in the Royal Northern College of Music but then I did get to discuss fainting with Louis Theroux the next day. You don’t get to do that kind of thing in banking.

There’s very little in life – sad moods, bad weather, early flights, traffic jams – that can’t be improved by playing ‘Love is in the Air‘ and a drinking large cup of black coffee.

Salad is rubbish. Cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Especially soft French cheese on warm bread of some kind.

Nightclubs are rubbish. Spend an evening at a gig, or having dinner, or going for a late walk.

For some reason as you get older, kindness becomes more important. From your friends and family, to strangers in the street, to refugees fleeing a war zone, being kind is the key. But I will try everything I can to show E that this is the most important thing she can do from the start.

Watching things – gigs, lovely views, paintings in the Louvre, anything – through the lens of your camera phone is the scourge of modern times. Stop it. All of you. Put the damn thing down and enjoy the moment. Your little film will never recapture the feeling as well as your memory.


Never ever, no matter how tired or drunk you are, or who’s with you, go to bed without first removing your eye make up.

My tips for staying young? Inherit good genes (my mum has great skin – thanks mum) but otherwise – drink lots of water, use a good eye cream, dance a lot, laugh more, find someone to keep you warm in bed, and once in a while give into the urge that makes you want to run like a child down the road.

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A refugee on our stairs

So I was talking to E about the refugee crisis this week.

No, alright I wasn’t really. Not outright. But we did talk about similar subjects. The nice thing about her growing up is that you can really see how she’s developing when it comes to conversations and her observations on things she sees. This was an example.

Sharbat_GulaWe have the famous Steve McCurry portrait of the Afghan girl Sharbat Gula framed and hanging on our stairs. I’ve always loved it. My nephew finds it scary. When he visits he talks of the scary woman in my house. (It’s at least reassuring that he doesn’t refer to me with that sentence.) And I can see why he finds her scary – those huge eyes, the intense expression. After his last visit, E started to take an interest in the picture – we call the picture ‘the lady’ and I’ve encouraged E to wave hello to her as we go past.

E asked me why the lady looked sad. So we sat on the stairs and I told her how the lady had to leave her home because people were fighting in it. I said she was sad because she was away from home. This made sense to E.

So we didn’t talk about the refugee crisis. But we did. Maybe when she’s a little older we can talk about it some more.

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Eight legged fears

I was reading somewhere a while back (it might have been in Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman book) that when you’re a parent, you’re no longer scared by things that used to scare you.

Her point, I think, was that there are so many new things to be concerned about – and as someone who daily worries about the different ways E could die, I understand – that you don’t have time for trivial old matters.

However, it isn’t true. I am still scared of things of old. Here is a list:

  • fairground rides, planes, ladders and anything manmade and metal that takes you off the ground
  • potential lunatics looking in a lighted window at me while camped outside in the dark ready to strike
  • Spiders

It’s nearly September, my favourite month, my favourite season, my birthday month and yet the worst month for spider sightings. Newspapers revel in stories of ENORMOUS creatures making their way into our houses to raise their young.

The fear is still there but what has changed since I became a mum is how I deal with it. I used to have the squeamish “it won’t hurt you so be nice” liberal conscience and not kill them. SO I spent evenings nervously reading with one eye on the creature at all times until I went to bed or I’d get my spider catching contraption out, try and pick it up and take it into the garden. Releasing it was always a problem (assuming I hadn’t got its legs caught in the lid by mistake in the act of picking it up) – in case it ran out onto my toes so I tended to hurl it across the garden and fetch the device back the next day.

Post-E, I no longer do this namby pamby stuff. I kill them. Anyone who tells you that these days books are useless and the future is digital either doesn’t mind spiders or hasnt thought their domestic arrangements through. Books will save you. Heavy books. Dictionaries. They can be dropped and then stepped on.

I know I know. But I think it’s something to do with control. There are many things I can’t control but this I can. Sorry spiders. You have been warned.

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Lousy visitors

We have had house guests. Of the six legged kind.

It’s inevitable, when you are the parent of a girl with long hair, that head lice will be a feature of your parenting life. And yet, it took me a long time to realise that they were here. Finally, when E told me her head was hurting after a scratching bout I took a closer look and saw lots of black spots. Eewww.

Memories of nits when I was a lass involved my mum wearing rubber gloves, sitting us in the dining room and scrubbing at our heads with some noxious smelling liquid – the rubber gloves pulled at our hair and made the whole thing horrible. Dad refused to have his head done. Treatments have moved on, thank goodness, but it’s still not much fun.

The NHS website says many head lice have adjusted to chemical treatments and the other options are oil-based which suffocate the lice. There are a number on sale, all between £10 and £15, and many say they work within 5-10 minutes. This is fine – as far as it goes.

The good news about the oil-based treatments is that they’ve sorted out E’s persistent cradle cap a treat. The bad news is that if you follow their instructions you will still have head lice. So here’s what to do. Put your treatment on dry hair of your toddler and yourself. At this point you may feel as “if millions of voices cried out in terror and then were suddenly silenced.” Don’t feel guilty. You will wish for a Death Star of your own by the end of this.

We have used Full Marks (“works in 5 minutes!”) which is very oily but takes a LONG time to wash out – ie, at least three lots of shampoo and another on a separate day before you get all the oil out and your child no longer looks like a greaser. We have also used Lyclear shampoo which is less oily but takes a VERY long time to rinse out – it took me nearly five minutes to rinse out of my own hair and in the end I had to use the shower on E’s hair which she hates.

You then have to comb through the hair with the nit comb for as long as possible, ideally, if you can, about half an hour. This is the bit that isn’t on the box. I’m not kidding about the half an hour. If this sounds difficult with a toddler, it is. E lets us do it for a while and then starts to cry and shouts “no more,” at which point she also gets wriggly and it becomes impossible. The best time was when I explained there were creatures in her hair and we had to comb them away and we had a charming conversation about what they were – giraffes, crocodiles, monsters and so on. This coincided with the time I used the shower on her and she was so upset she needed cuddling for a while so sat docile while I combed and combed. She has fine hair which doesn’t help. Essentially you need to comb until you have dislodged as many dead bodies, eggs and whatever debris they’ve left in the hair as possible. And then a week later you have to do it again. And probably then do it again. Keep combing. Condition the hair well. Comb again. And again.

The first comb through is the worst. I shrieked “oh my God!” at the top of my voice at the sight of these little bodies living in my daughter’s hair and sucking her blood. I was about to wipe them away on a tissue when S bounded across the bathroom saying “let me look!” Here was a man who was actually upset that he only had one in his own very short hair. *rolls eyes* After a while though, you look at it differently. One weekend I started to lose it – we’d been living with them for a while and I was persevering only to see them on the comb, practically waving in triumph. Little fuckers. It got biblical. That was the longest the mixture was left in, the longest comb through, the moment I boil washed towels, bedclothes and scoured the bathroom while S hovered downstairs. I will not be defeated.

And my perseverance has paid off! For now, we’re free of them. But I’m now regularly checking E’s head. And panicking over the slightest itch, even the ones that aren’t on our heads…

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Sunday girl

“We just stay here and have a talk,” she said to me. We were lying on my bed, having done a bit of bouncing and I suggested we might like to go downstairs. But E wanted to stay, she looped an arm over my shoulder and we lay head to head while she chattered on, half gibberish but she was happy enough.

Lots of folk my age seem to remember Sundays with a mixture of boredom and dread – boredom that there wasn’t much to do and dread of school the next day. I was often stuck at home, homework, reading and no friends nearby, or we went to visit my grandparents, both lots in one day and a meal at each.

The recent government announcement that they would look at abolishing Sunday trading hours was rather a depressing one, I thought. It seemed if you objected you got yelled at for being religious, which wasn’t at all the case for me. I do get so depressed at the constant commercialising of everything and it does seem to me now, that we as a country so badly need some kind of rest day once a week, that more shopping really isn’t the answer. As it happens, S and I hate crowds so much we rarely go anywhere near shopping centres on weekends but I’ve become rather fond of the quiet Sunday at home with not much to do. Boredom can be good, for children as well as adults. I think it’s probably a sign of my age…

Last Sunday, for instance, we had all had a lie in, then read some books in bed over a cup of tea (or milk) and then breakfast. E and I had come upstairs to dress, bounce and were now lying on my bed chatting. From there we went downstairs, talking of dollies and books, and did some more reading and examined some caterpillars in the garden until she and S went to buy a newspaper and go to a garden centre. With them gone, I made coffee, did the ironing, hung out the washing and put the dinner on. I cast on a new knitting pattern and pottered about.

When E and S returned she ate lunch and then she and I took her scooter to the park where we explored the pond area, saying hello to the ducklings and cygnets, and spotting some tiny fish in the pond. Then we just sat on the grass for a while and talked some more.

My idea for dinner was that she hasn’t had a chance to eat much with us recently, we don’t eat much together at the weekend as S and I tend to eat later. And despite her eating smoked fish dishes all weekend I thought it would be good to have a family dinner and something for her that wasn’t too processed. So I roasted a bird from the freezer and served it up. She looked delighted, ate two mouthfuls and said she’d finished. Ditto pudding. She ended up eating ravioli and yoghurt instead. Still it was nice to be sociable.

We didn’t do much all day but what we did was quiet and home-based and together. The house does now look very much like we’ve been at home all day without much to do – there are hair clips, soft toys and trains all over the place. But I liked it. She’s of the age where she liked it too. It won’t last. But we could all do with a day once in a while with simple pleasures – the smell of clean linen, a home cooked dinner and some mindless chatter with a three year old who wants you to be her whole world.

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