Elisabeth Frink and No 7 make up*

We spent Sunday afternoon at the University of Nottingham arts centre, mainly to visit their Elisabeth Frink exhibition but also to let E play in their superior playground. The Frink was my choice as I’m partial to sculpture.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the exhibition is an ENORMOUS horse. Frink specialised in male figures and animals, mainly, so there was a lot to engage a child with. E was very interested in the figures and trotted forward to have a closer look. We were immediately shadowed by a museum volunteer who got close enough to hear me tell E not to touch any of the figures. Once she was satisfied I had the situation in hand, she retreated. A little.

We carried on. E commented on the expressions on the faces, the animals and the few paintings on the wall all of which interested her. She crouched down next to one of them and laid her hand on the side of the wooden plinth that the 10ft statue (of a naked man) stood on. Another volunteer leaped forward. “Can you make sure your daughter doesn’t touch the art?” she said. “She’s not,” I said. “Anything, anything, she mustn’t touch anything.” she said.

I duly told E she could only touch the floor. She nodded. We went on through the rest of the exhibition. I couldn’t get her interested in anything else. With the other things – a statue of a baboon, a hog, another dog – the only thing she would say was “We can’t touch it, can we?” She didn’t talk about the faces or the animals or the pictures any more.

Now, I don’t want to be one of those parents who excuses her child’s bad behaviour and rate their experience above everyone else. I want E to be a considerate person. And I also realise the galleries have responsibilities. But she wasn’t touching the art. She was very clear on that. It was a wooden plinth. It was the side of a wooden plinth. Very close to the floor. People were bashing other plinths with their handbags. If there was a safety issue, then I’d suggest that if a three-year old could knock something down, it probably isn’t that safe.

It was just a situation that was badly handled by someone who was slightly over officious. On the whole many museums and galleries are welcoming to families. But this made me feel bad for a while afterwards, though my annoyance was then directed elsewhere when we found the facilities in the cafe weren’t working properly (there is always something wrong when we go to have a drink and snack there.)

Bowie!

Bowie!

Luckily, the gallery across the park cheered us up. It’s the gallery that the archive dept run and this month has a display of Boots No 7 products in it. Boring and out of sight for children BUT they had a colouring table where you could design your own hair and make up on a face. E’s effort looked so like David Bowie I had a glow of parental pride. They also had a dressing up box. Feather boa, 60s hats and tunics, leg warmers and deely boppers, and loads of beaded necklaces. We had a great time. It more than made up for the other side of the park.

We did the other side at home later.

We did the other side at home later.

*Or, how to engage children in museums.

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Awakenings

Monday-Thursday

She’s face down, duvet kicked off, hair strewn across her face. She smells of yeast. There is a grunt and some repositioning until you open the blinds and put the light on. She rubs her eyes, smiles, gets a hug, and starts to get up ready to dress for nursery. It’s harder to wake her as the week goes on and she’s reassuringly normal as she gets a bit grumpy and tired.

Friday

You’re summoned to life slowly, by a small voice calling your name and talking to her friends. You pull on pyjamas and go into her room, climbing into bed beside her for a cuddle. The two of you play ‘circle time’ with the toys, read a couple of books and whisper like conspirators. Eventually she wants to get up, pulls off her pyjamas and gets dressed before breakfast.

Saturday

You plan to lie in. This is usually futile as your husband lies on his good ear and takes far too long to pull on his clothes and glasses when he finally realises you don’t want to get up, that you may as well have got up yourself. Nevertheless, you plan to lie in. She wakes a little earlier than usual, suddenly, and cries out. She shouts “I want my Mummy and Daddy!” You’re there as she finishes and again you climb in the bed and have a cuddle while she calms. Soft toys fall off the bed onto the floor and there’s a small plastic dinosaur at the foot of the bed ready to bite your toes. A draught goes down your back and you can’t fully relax as she’s lying on your arm, with her face close to yours. She breathes, phlegmy rasps into your face. You think she may have dropped off but she’s awake, eyes open, ready to smile at you and give you a further hug when you check to see if she’s ok.

Sunday

The lie in would be nice but you’re reconciled to losing it now. You lie and hope for summer to arrive soon so you can encourage her to walk across the landing to your room like she did before it got too dark in the mornings. She wakes, calls out, and your husband gets up to see her but he sees you’re awake. She comes in the bed, he fetches tea and milk. Or, you fetch tea, milk and crumpets. We read books. She plays buses, clipping us into our seat belts and driving to a shop where we buy cakes, flags, and flowers and sing ‘Happy Birthday’.

Repeat.

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National Libraries day

It’s late, I know. My blogging has fallen off in recent weeks  and I can only blame the day job workload and a stinking cold. But a quick few words because it’s National Libraries Day.

My first library was a bus. A mobile library that came to the close where I lived. I on’t remember it well, though it may have been an odd blue colour and I do remember wondering how the books stayed on the shelves, as you do.

But then they built a new library, brand spanking new, down the road from my house. I went to the opening with my mum, got out loads of books and refused to talk to local radio about how glad I was that the library was there.

From that day I went a lot. After school, on Saturday mornings while my dad watched Football Focus, after school again, after school and Saturday mornings. For years. I must have read so many books there. I remember one, a YA dystopian fable called The Bumblebee Flies Anyway by Robert Cormier, I forget what it was about except that I was hooked and I got so cross at my dad who laughed at the title, thinking it wasn’t tackling enormous issues of life-threatening import. I remember being the latest in a long line of teenage girls asking for their copy of Forever by Judy Blume, just as the librarians had taken it out the back to try and mend its crumbling spine and loose pages from so much reading and re-reading.

My school had a library too. More books to read. And then there were university libraries. I found them impossible to study in, instead always looking around, taking in the titles and the grafitti on the tables. Photocopy and borrow the books to read elsewhere, that was my strategy. This is as true today as it was then – I can’t work well in libraries. When I was studying for my post-graduate diploma I had a visitor’s pass to Nottingham Trent University’s library. They only let you have access for a few days per year; you were essentially a non-paying student using their resources, and you couldn’t borrow anything. I had to get my research done in those few days. It was incredibly difficult and I only managed it by constantly playing The cave Singers two albums over and over again on my ipod.

Nowadays my library visits are mainly with my daughter who, at three, is already a big fan of the library. It was one of the first places to make us feel welcome as a mother and daughter combo, offering tots time singing sessions and signing her up for a library card before she was six months old.

I am incredibly lucky in living somewhere that the local Council recognises the importance of libraries, has been funding them and is working hard to improve literacy rates in children. Not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone realises what they are losing. Fight to keep them. They are a lifeline to so many.

*This blog post is one of the few cross fertilisations from my other blog Books From Basford.

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Review: The Snowman on stage

I have blogged before about our family love for The Snowman. When I saw that it would be appearing at Theatre Royal in Nottingham I booked us tickets to take E. It’s still her favourite.

As you’d expect, the story closely follows the film (not the book – there’s no Santa in the book and they only fly to the end of Brighton pier) but to fill out the time a little, they add more dance sequences. There is dancing fruit from the fridge when they are in the kitchen, dancing toys in the boy’s room and, in the second half, a prolonged ‘love triangle’ story for the Snowman, an ice angel and Jack Frost.

Like the film, there is no dialogue, just music, played in this instance by a pianist, and several supporting men with keyboards. (We had a good view of the pit from our balcony seats) The boy playing James was excellent and very endearing. But our respect goes to the person in the snowman costume (spoiler alert) for dancing under the lights in that.

Sadlers Wells snowmanSo what did E think? She took her cuddly snowman with her to watch, and was very comfy on my lap leaning on on the railing to watch. Several times she stood up on the side to lean well over the railing to see more, giving me a heart attack as I grabbed her round the waist each time.

She was engrossed though. Each half was about three quarters of an hour long, and she watched fascinated, and offering a commentary on what she could see all the way through. She took their flying sequence in her stride, being of the age where it seems perfectly feasible that a snowman and boy could fly. She enjoyed the dancing, the ballerinas and the appearance of Santa. And she loved clapping at the end of each number, sitting back and smiling at me and S to show us how well she liked it.

I’m so encouraged by her attention for the dancing I’m trying to decide if she’s going to be old enough for a girls’ trip to the ballet next Christmas. I’ve been wanting to take her to the ballet since we found out she was a girl. It may be too long. But this definitely a good start.

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Singing the blues

I don’t know about you but I’ve had it with January. What a rubbish month it’s been!

I write this with a stinking cold, one so bad it made me practically pass out at work yesterday and has kept me home (albeit with a functioning laptop) today. My germs were passed on to me from E, as children are wont to do, and together we sound like a pair of old men after smoking a lifetime of woodbines.

The problem with January is that I get impatient. You start the year being bombarded with stupid New Year resolution style stuff – most of which is something I would want to do anyway, eat sensibly, get more exercise and so on – but January is the worst possible month to start any of these things. I won’t get up half an hour earlier to fit things in, you know why? It’s dark and cold. But there is something at the back of your mind that you should really stop making excuses and get out there.

And yet, we’ve had quite a few weeks – I have a husband with at least 13 new pieces of metal in his arm who’s kicking around at home feeling bored and frustrated (he’s so bored he’s been on the comparison websites and is now switching services). Work is frantically busy. E is developing. Sometimes her development and changes are so obvious even to someone who sees her every day – this month has been one of those. Things I’ve explained to her but didn’t think had sunk in have been repeated to me in playtime, her play acting has taken on new depths and she is interested in writing out her letters. All massive things. I don’t think I’ve done them justice though.

I think what I’d appreciate would be a few weeks where everything just went smoothly. Where it wasn’t raining a lot, where I didn’t get a puncture on the way home, where the temperature in the office didn’t affect me so much I have to lie down in meetings before I fall down, and so on. It’s not too much to ask, no?

Yesterday morning, I lay in bed feeling rough and could hear S trying to coax a tired E to get dressed. There was a knock at the door – the postman, delivering a parcel. I leaned out the window, explained I was feeling bad and would he mind leaving it in the back garden? “No I can’t,” he said. “I’ve got to put it through the delivery portal.” It turns out this meant the front door. Just when you think we’ve reached peak corporate insanity something comes along to drag us further down.

He then offered to leave it in the car, if I had the keys with me and could unlock it by zapping the unlock button. I’ve no idea why this is acceptable but the back garden on request from the customer isn’t.

But it’s this kind of thing I want a break from. Bring on February. At least it’s shorter.

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Passing on your heroes – heroes passing on

BBC Radios 2 and 4 both have a regular slot about inheritance tracks – where people discuss music they inherited from their parents and discuss their influences. I really love hearing about things like this. It would be so tempting and lovely to write today that my own inheritance tracks include David Bowie, but they don’t. Nevertheless, among the distracted thoughts that flitted through my mind today, I did wonder how best to pass on some great tracks to E that she might learn to love and appreciate.

She currently lives in a household that plays BBC 6 Music constantly (except Saturdays) and Classic FM at bathtime. Sometimes she responds to the music she hears (this weekend I taught her the chorus to Buffalo Stance) and sometimes she doesn’t. I don’t know what age children get to before they start to want to go and find their own thing but I’ll only be able to influence the music played in the house for so long. And that’s as it should be.

While my parents weren’t massive Bowie fans, they nevertheless managed to pass on a nice range of music tastes to me. My inheritance tracks include Motown, Hollywood musicals, Roy Orbison, Kenny Rogers and the William Tell Overture. We had Radio 1 on all the time when I grew up, I defended the BBC to my friends who all listened to local commercial radio. Like all 80s kids I taped the charts. I listened to music all the time while I did my homework. But I also remember my friends and I discovering music for ourselves, wrestling some of it away from our parents’ generation. At 14 we passed round Beatles tapes. At 17 a friend came into the library, passed me her earphones and pressed play. I heard Tom Waits’s voice for the first time and thought “what the hell?”

What can I pass on to E? Bruce Springsteen, Kate Bush and David Bowie.

Bowie’s an interesting one because he transcends generations. Of all the tributes today, the ones that are the most touching come from the kids who looked up to him because they were different, and so was he. And he made that ok. It’s the kind of thing you want to pass on to your children – I want E to be different, to stand out, to not be afraid. What better role model?

I heard the news this morning while standing at the tram stop in the dark, waiting to go to work. While I was a fan of his, I would never have described myself as a massive fan. I didn’t have all the albums. But there I was on the tram, desperately upset. Somewhere you realise the influence has had more of an effect than you thought. I was reminded of my 16-year old self, standing in the dark at the bus stop in 1991 crying to Radio 1 as they played Bohemian Rhapsody following the announcement of Freddie Mercury’s death.

What I hope E finds in her generation is someone like this. What I liked best about Bowie was even when he was the coolest person on the planet, if you watch some of his performances (there’ll be loads on BBC4 in the coming weeks I imagine,) you see someone having an enormous amount of fun. He made it human, he made it look like he was just as amazed as you were, even when he looked like an alien. The same with Freddie.

I hope I can pass these kind of feelings onto E. I hope she experiences live music and is transcended by it. I hope E finds her own moment that she knows exactly where she was when it happened. I hope she knows what it’s like to be touched by someone she’s never met. I hope she knows that it’s ok to grieve for that person when they die, despite never having met them. I hope she has a moment where she sits back, like me this morning or in November 1991, and regrets never having seen someone play live. But I definitely hope she has a moment, like I did when Clarence Clemons died (the last time I wept over a dead musician) and thinks I was there and it was beautiful.

Thank you David Ziggy Bowie, you immortal you. They’ve come to take you home.

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Look after you

As you may have guessed from my previous blog post, things haven’t worked out according to my original plan this Christmas. We’ve stayed in our own house for the first time since I left home. I’ve been wanting to have a Christmas where everyone came to us for some time, but I wasn’t planning on having it happen because S had fallen down the stairs and done himself an injury.

An update: he had his operation yesterday and is now home, sleeping off the drugs and catching up on the rest he didn’t get last night. His arm is covered in pen marks, dye and all kinds of colourful bruising, as well as the dressing. He was barely awake when we picked him up (how to waste half an hour of your life – try and find somewhere to pick someone up at QMC hospital, how hard is it to have a well signposted pick up and drop off point? Very hard indeed, it seems) having never been able to cope without sleep and been pumped so full of drugs it was a wonder he made his way out. (He rarely takes any kind of painkiller, his system must be wondering what the hell’s going on.)

My family came up to us on Sunday and spent a hectic two days opening presents, eating, and recovering from the drive up here before heading back down the motorway. It was lovely to see them, and I’m incredibly grateful to them for making the effort. Before I do any kind of official Christmas ‘do’, we really do need to move somewhere bigger. With me, E and S it’s cramped enough, when there are two more adults and two more children, it really is incredibly difficult. Airbeds and sofabeds are all very well but you do need room to put them up. (My sister brought an airbed with her that inflates to the height of a divan – who knew such a thing existed? I wouldn’t have thought of it in a million years. But once it was up, there was no crossing the dining room from one side to the next.)

Despite hating any kind of car journey myself these days, I have missed not going home or to my in-laws. It’s unlikely we’ll go away to see them for New Year. This does mean that not only have I avoided any driving or car journeys but I’ve also been able to do boring but necessary adulting – buying new bed sheets and storage for E’s toys in the sales, having a brief clear out and so on – but it still feels strange not going away. It’s not just because it’s habit. I think we all like to return to our parents’ houses occasionally as an excuse to abdicate from responsibility for a little while.

You know what it’s like. Parents make nice dinners, have dishwashers and tumble dryers, and want to send time with the children. You can sit back and relax, you don’t have to do anything.

If you took a poll of working mothers and asked them what they consider a luxury, I think you’d find a large number would state having an afternoon to do nothing except read a book on the sofa and make their way through a box of Ferrero Rocher. Forget cruise liners and spa days, it’s the ability to relax interruption-free that we all want. E and I put S to bed, Storm Frank* was raging outside so we decided to watch movies all afternoon. But E can’t watch movies without fidgeting and clambering about, using me as a climbing frame and demanding food or drink.

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with E and I’m really grateful that she’s been so well behaved the last two days. (By the way, I have a new found respect for single parents – I spent two days with just E and am losing my mind, how they do it all the time is beyond me.) But we all need a little looking after once in a while. And having said that, I’m going to retire to the sofa to watch the Anne of Green Gables DVD I got for Christmas, and eat some Ferrero Rocher.

*I know we’ve got this new system of naming storms but couldn’t we have been more inventive? This is the land of Dickens and Shakespeare, are you telling me ‘Frank’ was the best name they could come up with?

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