Friday 29 May 2009

Mice biting, dogs peeing, tum-ti-tum

This was going to be such a good day. James is off having a sleepover with a friend and so this was going to be the day I salvaged from half-term to get through my Sisyphean list of Things To Do. I was going to write two features; bang off lists of scintillating ideas to my editors; do some invoicing; and all before lunch. Then I was doing to spend the afternoon resurrecting the children’s novel, washing my hair, painting my toenails and maybe, just maybe, making up a new batch of rhubarb syrup. I was going to launch into the weekend feeling productive and positive and pretty fabulous. Yup, well that was a silly idea.

It’s 11am and I still haven’t had breakfast. Mainly because Adrian and I, demob happy, went out last night to see Angels and Demons (total and utter tosh – we kept whispering to each other things like ‘he’s got ten minutes to save the cardinal from being toasted and he’s changing his suit?’) and then had an immense curry. We were the only people in The Ganges which was a little disconcerting and so I think we felt honour-bound to order more than we really needed. The waiters were so impressed they gave us free lager. Hence spent a long uncomfortable night balancing on my belly and dreaming of stomach ache.
Quite apart from feeling queasy (had to stop reading Sea of Poppies as they kept talking about dhal and chapattis) the morning has gone wrong in about six directions at once.
Adrian woke me up to tell me: ‘There’s a leak in the kitchen…under the sink.’
That would be the new kitchen and the hand-built sink unit with the water seeping into the new oak flooring.
Tracked down Percy the plumber who turned up with his usual knowing grin.
‘Been having a good time, I hear. Off on trips to Disney. Was reading your blog…’
What? Is nothing sacred? Now I can’t even moan about plumbers online.
Turned out that mice had eaten through the piping. Nice. And Percy couldn’t fix the pipes until Brett, the cabinet-maker, came back to take the sink unit to bits. So the whole morning has vanished in phone calls, and people racing over the moor and narrowly missing each other, pretty much like a Laurel and Hardy farce.

Meanwhile the dog has been barking his head off and I just caught him sliding down the stairs having peed up against the bed – again. The friend’s mother has just rung to say could we pick up James early (I’m not even going to ask why) and so my beautiful organised productive day has descended into chaos.
Never mind. As Adrian said, ‘Nobody’s died.’
‘Wish the bloody mice would die,’ I muttered in return.
‘Nobody’s in hospital.’
I raised an eyebrow. ‘There’s still time for an assault on A&E.’
So far James has managed to get through half-term without concussing himself or spraining an ankle – though he has a cracking black eye courtesy of cricket (no, not a ball, fell over on a piece of rope) and a graze over his nose (Butlins water slide). The first thing his maths teacher said, on seeing him in the park, was – ‘Still in one piece, James?’

Anyhow, here I am blogging when I should be working. Why? Because it’s good to write. I still think blogging is great therapy and that, when the mice are eating through your pipes and the dog is peeing against the bed; when every travel editor in town has no budget and you're STILL feeling overfed at 12 noon, at least one can still moan and gnash one’s teeth and whinge online. Yes, of course I should be doing something constructive, like heading into battle against the weeds or even sponging down the bed but frankly I can't be bothered. Is it too early for a rhubarb bellini?

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Bank holidays and Butlins

Half-term and I’m playing that grim old game of motherhood multi-tasking. I’m trying to frame some sensible questions to email to a professor for a feature while a plangent voice is wailing from the kitchen, ‘How many angles make up a triangle?’ I’d love to be able to take half-term off but time waits for no freelancer and, in today’s climate, you take what you’re given – and of course it’s always given (and expected back three minutes later) when children are off school.
Still, I’ve ratcheted up quite a few ‘Good Mother’ brownie points this weekend so I’m not feeling too guilty.
It was a weekend of rhubarb vanilla bellinis (not for the children, let me quickly add) and barbecues; of actually sitting outside and enjoying the sun on the terrace while the children were building a den in the big conifer arch. All terribly nice and civilised.

‘What shall we do tomorrow?’ said Adrian, still mellow and glowing from receiving accolades for his paella cooked on the open flame.
‘Well, I thought about Butlins.’
‘What?’ Spluttering into his wheat beer, horror etched on his face.
‘Relax. You don’t have to go.’
‘Are you totally and utterly mad?’

Sort of. Probably. Ah, what the hell? We only live half an hour from Butlins (the Minehead branch). Yet for the ten years of James’ life we have steadfastly pretended it doesn’t exist. Maybe we were a little put off by Adrian’s mate who once booked a week there with the family and left after ten minutes (I’d better not say why). But things are better now I’d been told. Still slightly high from Disney I thought I ought to stop being so arsey and pretentious and just go for it. If I could learn to love the Mouse…..

Anyhow, I have always had a sneaky desire to check it out. See, we never did Butlins as a child. We used to go to Southwold (when Southwold wasn’t fashionable) and Dover (which still isn’t fashionable). We would stay in b&bs with sour landladies who threw us out after our meagre breakfast and leave us to shiver in our rented beach hut (not remotely desirable then) as the rain lashed down and the wind blew straight in from Siberia. Butlins sounded fun. Actually, more than anything it sounded warm and dry. I yearned to go.

So we went. Me and James and his mate Jack (with Adrian waving us off incredulously and with relief writ large on his forehead). We were given a map and advised to get our bearings as ‘it’s big, really big.’ But it isn’t really. Most of the acreage seems to be taken up by the accommodation (including a rather smart set of flats that wasn’t there last time I drove by). The first shock is that not that much is included for free. You don’t pay for the rides on the fairground or the entertainment inside the big top but pretty much everything else – from the bumper boats to the go-kart track, from the paintball to the climbing wall to the bouncy playground, all entails extra cost. It’s not cheap either, ranging from roughly £2 - £10 per child per activity (with a few going even higher). I got sick of hearing myself say, ‘No’ and urging them to have another go on the good old Waltzers.

The second surprise is that the height restrictions are really, well, restrictive. Jack is several months older than James (and in the year above him at school) but several inches shorter. So we had the mad situation in which Jack (who is a dab hand at go-karting) wasn’t allowed to drive his own kart while James (who is, sorry lad but honesty compels me, rubbish) was.
‘I suppose I could drive you?’ I said to Jack who gave me the kind of look that screams ‘Are you totally insane?’
‘Or not.’ I quickly added. We moved on.
Same problem with the bumper cars. I really really don’t get this. Ten year old boys and bumper cars go together like Ant and Dec so the idea of Jack having to be piloted by decrepit old me was totally daft. Several other parents clearly felt the same as there was an ongoing rumble of discontent at several rides. However, on the plus side, there weren’t really queues as such and, if you like funfairs (and have tall children), then you could merrily spend a few hours making yourself queasy and dizzy.

The real hit, however, was the pool complex. Here the boys spent about two hours going on various slides and shoots and generally getting themselves a fabulous array of bruises and bashes. I meanwhile sat in the ‘viewing area’ (which is ridiculously sited so you can’t see half the stuff going on) and got my nose stuck into A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (which is just absolutely and totally fabulous). I can feel my long-held adoration of David Mitchell starting to slip (just a little). I Just Can Not Believe it is his first novel (truly life is hugely unfair).

It was sweltering hot and if I closed my eyes (and ignored the whistles of the lifeguards) I could pretend I was sitting in the steam room of a spa. I swear I sweated off at least a couple of pounds.

Upshot? The boys loved it, really loved it. They voted the pool complex (free) the best bit, followed by the bumper boats (£4 per boat), the big climbing wall (£6 each for ten minutes) and the shooting range (£2 for twenty shots). As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected but I do think Butlins could up their game. Include a lot more free rides and experiences, have a bit of a smarten-up (some bits are decidedly ropey), sweep up the fag ends and relax the restrictions on the rides: then, actually, it would be a pretty good day out.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Crime and Punishment

Crime and punishment – how far do you go? This morning we were listening to the news and a MP saying that the mood in Westminster was tortured and ‘unbearable’.
‘It’s getting a bit McCarthy-esque,’ I muttered through my muesli.
‘It’s like a McCarthy witch-hunt,’ echoed the radio. Whoah, that was a bit Big Brother-ish. Is someone listening in?

The breakfast table was swathed in gloom. Not because we are particularly anxious about our tortured MPs but because of a case of crime and punishment much closer to home.
Last night James came in from school as I was on the phone to a mother from school. Yes, Ben would love to come for a sleepover, yes I could pick him up from school and they could go to the cricket nets and muck around in the den and generally have a heck of a laugh. We haven’t had this boy to stay before; he’s a bit of a ‘new best friend’ and James was virtually dancing as I got off the phone.
‘Oh, thank you, THANK you, Mum. You’re the best Mum in the world.’
Yeah, well…..
Off he went to climb into the hedge and spy on the neighbours, practicing to be a deep cover M16 agent. My boy was happy: I was happy. The sun was shining (rare and beautiful). I sipped a glass of wine and thought all was well with the world.

Twenty minutes later the phone rang. Same mother. Er, change of plan.
What, in twenty minutes?
Another younger boy, it transpired, had accused James, Ben and another friend of calling him, not names (the typical playground taunts) but, bizarrely, name (that of another boy in his year – still shaking my head over that one). The small boy’s mother was threatening to complain to the head. Ben had been dispatched round to apologise profusely but his mother felt further punishment was necessary and the sleepover had been cancelled.
What could I say? It seemed a little steep but if the boys had been mean then obviously something needed doing. I said I respected her decision; maybe we could reschedule another time, and came off the phone with my unhappy mother face stuck firmly on.

James was genuinely incredulous. A small stunned and indignant face poked out from the top of the hedge.
‘What did we do? We didn’t do ANYTHING.
I believed him. James can be a little sod but he’s an honest little sod and if he’s transgressed he will hold his hand up and take what’s coming. But this was clearly unfair in his book and he totally lost the plot.
The head disappeared and the bush heaved with sobs.
‘Twenty minutes?’ he managed to splutter. ‘Twenty minutes ago I was really really happy; now I’m totally miserable.’

What can you say? That’s life. Sometimes, no matter how good and innocent you are, crap things happen. I suppose it’s a good lesson for later life but my heart went out to him. We’ve always tried to be scrupulously fair with James and he respects that privileges are taken away for misdemeanours. But being punished for something that he felt really wasn’t his fault unleashed the flood-gates. He lashed out in every which way – grief turned to anger turned to incredulity.

Finally, exhausted, I got him into a bath (laced with soothing lavender) and managed to calm him down.
‘Honey, these things happen. Nothing’s achieved by taking it out on the cricket bat.’
‘But it’s so unfair.’ He shook his head sadly.

This morning I’ve been wondering about it. As far as James was concerned it was all part and parcel of playground banter. He said that everyone gets called names at some point and that you just take it on the chin and get on with it. I could sympathise. As a child I was called ‘willy’(from my surname I hasten to add), ‘carrot-top’, ‘spotty’ (freckles let’s be clear) and never thought of complaining. When James has moaned that so-and-so did this or that, we’ve told him that he needs to ignore it, or just deal with it.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ asked James. ‘How am I supposed to play with kids if at any moment they might take offense and run off and tell tales?’

Interesting point. How far should children ‘snitch’ and how far should parents take it on themselves to interfere in the playground? When does teasing turn into bullying (which I think we all would agree needs stamping on firmly)? I suppose it depends on the degree. But I do wonder if phoning up parents and threatening to go to the headmaster actually benefits the child in question. Will this boy grow up expecting that, every time something rotten happens, that someone will dive in and sort it out? Are we breeding a tell-tale culture?

I really don’t know. All I do know is that the atmosphere in this house has turned horribly sour and sad. Much like the corridors of Westminster I suppose.

Over at my other blog I have posted on downshifting and also on watery ways to enjoy the summer (ho ho ho). Click here to be directed.....

Monday 18 May 2009

Swamplands of the Soul, Infinity and Revenge

I’ve been living in a daze but I think I may finally be starting to wake up. I had a fallout with a friend just before the weekend and it triggered a surprising response in me. I realised, very suddenly and painfully, that I’d been projecting a huge amount of my deeper ‘stuff’ onto her. She was carrying all the tough, dark, difficult parts of me: the depression, the anxiety, the loneliness, the fear of rejection and frequent feelings of despair and worthlessness. She also held all the more interesting parts too: the intellectual enquiry, the spirituality, the psychology, mythology, poetry, music and art. While she was there, doing all the work, I was able to hide away and numb myself with a frenzy of social networking, of Spider Solitaire and other distractions. Foolish me.

So over the weekend I turned off the computer and made time to start a bit of work on my self, on my soul. A small start, for sure, but a valuable one. I pulled an armchair into a corner by the window, where I could look out and watch the wisteria blowing in the wind; where I could see the exclamation marks of day-glo azaleas amidst the green on green. I played Nick Drake, Ray Lamontagne, Davy Spillane, Sean Tyrrell and Conor Keane. I re-read James Hollis’s amazing book Swamplands of the Soul and started re-reading another of his books, The Middle Passage.
In the last ten years since I had James (like many mothers, I suspect) I’ve ignored my soul. I’ve abased it, abused it and neglected it. No wonder it is sore. No wonder my body is causing me pain. When one neglects the soul, the body reacts too and flinches and cowers from the abuse.

Jung said that ‘the goal of life is not happiness but meaning’. James Hollis reaffirms this and states that:

‘There is no sunlit meadow, no restful bower of easy sleep; there are rather swamplands of the soul where nature, our nature, intends that we live a good part of the journey, and from whence many of the most meaningful moment of our lives will derive. It is in the swamplands where soul is fashioned and forged, where we encounter not only the gravitas of life, but its purpose, its dignity and its greatest meaning.’

So yes, I’m in a swamp but I think that is OK.

‘You think too deeply, that’s your problem,’ said Adrian with a sigh.
‘No. I don’t think deeply ENOUGH,’ said I with a grimace.
‘Well you worry too much. I don’t know anyone else who worries about infinity.’
He’s right. I do. I can make myself dizzy thinking about forever. My head spins (not literally, that would be wrong) when I try to trek out beyond the known universe. But doesn’t everyone do that?
‘Er, no.’

James, meanwhile, is worried about school. He came home looking shifty.
‘Did you hear?’
Hear what? About how he had been accidentally knocked into a puddle by a boy a year younger and had waited an hour to take his revenge stone cold - which entailed carefully placing all said boy’s sports kit in the showers? Er, yup, had had a call from the headmaster about that one.
I smiled ruefully and he smiled back.
‘I’ve got to write apology letters.’
‘Sounds reasonable.’
He took it on the chin and I confess I was impressed – not least that he actually wrote more than:

‘Dear X

I’m sorry.


Things are looking up. However this morning, over breakfast, he was low again.
‘I’m worried about what people will say. I’m worried about what the teachers will say.’
So we sat on the sofa and had a bit of a hug.
‘You know what? There is no point in worrying about something until it actually happens. So, I’d suggest you don’t even think about it – until it does (and it might even not). Makes sense?’
‘Sort of.’

It does make sense. So today I am going to try to follow my own advice. I’m going to watch the rain, trace the auras of the trees and watch the blackbird making another nest, this time in the jasmine. Infinity still worries the hell out of me, but I figure I’ve got plenty of time to worry about it….

btw, have posted the piece I wrote for YOU magazine on blogging as therapy on my other blog

Plus pieces on EMDR and whether detoxing is dangerous.... click the links to read - and please do comment as I'd love to hear what you think - whether you agree or disagree or have any new, better ideas. This is a new venture for me and I'm aiming to get up a whole ton of my old features as a resource, now that so many of my books are out of print.

Friday 15 May 2009

Short to the point of rude?

Well the experiment didn’t work. Someone (OK, englishmum) said she once got 4,500 hits on a blog because she posted a recipe for lemon meringue pie. Then someone else told me they had been ‘inundated’ when they happened to mention that Brad Pitt was filming in their village. So, still feeling somewhat inadequate after hearing that there are US bloggers who get 94,000 hits a day, I thought I’d try it out.
Result? Even less hits than usual. Ah well, it was an interesting experiment (although, as Kitty points out, makes for a pretty trite blog – apologies).
Got me thinking about communication though. I’m still a bit bemused by Twitter. I can see its applications for business and it’s a good discipline to get over your message in 140 characters or whatever it is. However I reckon James must be beta-testing a new even more concise Twitter at school.

I’ve just had this little exchange via email (reported verbatim):

James: hello

Me: Hey, hello you! How are you? Daddy's gone for a cycle ride and I'm at my desk. Well, obviously. Blackbird is building a new nest now, in the creeper next to my window. Are you in IT?

Lots of love


James: thanks

Me: Thanks? Is it raining at school? It is here. Are you going for lunch soon? Wonder if it'll be lasagne? he he.


James: didyou get my attachment (sic)

Me: Is that it? What are you doing? Obviously on computer but is it an IT class? What attachment? Ah, that attachment. Sorry, didn't see it. Will go and open it now. Mummyxx

James: hi from nathan
and did you get my attachment

Me: Just seen the attachments. Wow the cover is great!
Do you want it printed out?
Hi Nathan - are you OK?

James: yes

Me: OK, I'll sort that.

James: not the second page but the first

James: (blank email)

Me: OK
Crikey, you don’t talk much on emails, do you??!! ;)

James: No

Long pause.

James: Archies being a saddo about james Bond

Doesn’t look like he’s inherited either his parents’ love for words or their capacity to yatter on at great length on absolutely nothing in particular. Probably a huge blessing all round. Or is it that men (and boys) are just naturally more brief than women? Adrian’s emails are frequently brief to the point of terse (though he can write the hind legs off the proverbial donkey when it comes to beer) whereas women tend to write longer, more polished emails. Or is it an age thing?

By the way, have just posted a report on over the counter medications on my other blog –

And, actually I am no longer bemused by Twitter - I am in love with it. Breaking news, looks like the Disney 7 might rise again as the Bognor 7 (or should that be Blognor)? Watch this space......

Thursday 14 May 2009

Blog bling and lemon meringue pie

More blog bling is pinging in….and very welcome it is too. Bereft of prizes in everyday life, it’s always kind of nice to get a pat on the back from a fellow blogger (even if the whole blogosphere will have the award by the end of the week).
I have decided to set aside my rant on Liz Jones for another day and instead focus on the positive things in life. I know this is a little unexpected but hey, even miserable old bags have their occasional moments of frivolity and glass half-full instead of glass draining the dregs.
Also I am being grateful for small mercies, particularly given a couple of recent events. Firstly, as I type, I am watching a thick line of smoke billow up over the hillside opposite.
James was working at his homework on my PC (at which point may I say a HUGE thank-you to the Purplecoo people, in particular Peterwf and Zoe who saved our bacon with helpful weather sites) when he said, in an awed voice.
‘Wow, that’s a big fire.’
I was expecting a large bonfire but, Oh My God, it was a REALLY big fire and looking pretty serious. Quick phone call determined the firemen were already there and focusing their hoses on the fixed caravan which had surely been torched one way or another (given it was tipping it down).

Secondly I was having coffee with my neighbours yesterday (and very pleasant it was too) when the discussion turned to the pub opposite us.
‘Wasn’t that awful about W?’ said my neighbour, turning to me. ‘Has all the blood gone now?’
‘Blood? What blood?’
‘There was blood all over your wall.’
Seems one of our local characters had stumbled out of the pub and pitched over the road and our wall had jumped out and hit him on the head. Poor chap lay bleeding all over the place until someone from the pub looked out and called an ambulance. Did we notice? Did we heck.

Anyhow, am feeling I should be grateful
a) not to have my house on fire – and, indeed, to have a house (no matter how damp and decrepit and money-pitish)
b) not to be bleeding all over the wall

I tried to find c), d) and e) but have been sitting, blankly staring out at the rain, for the last twenty minutes so maybe I’ll just leave it there. Quit while you’re ahead.

Now then, before I get onto the bling, just bear with me for a moment while I try out an experiment.

Harry Potter is gay. Daniel Radcliffe isn’t.
Princess Diana is alive and well and living on a farm in Simonsbath.
Lemon meringue pie recipe is truly fabulous but chocolate brownies are better.
Johnny Depp is buying our house after all (allegedly).

OK, that’s it. Will explain later.

Meanwhile I’ve been given two bits of blog bling which I really like (most are a bit naff, if I’m brutally honest). The first came from yummy mammy and is all glittery and sparkly (bear with me, I’m still in Tinkerbell mode – no, OK, that is too weird an image).
The second comes from dear Milla and is the polar opposite and just makes me laugh and (bizarrely) think of Disney again (though swearing is SO not Disney).

Apparently I have to list my five fabulous addictions. I hadn’t realised addictions were fabulous but here we go.
1. The sodding PC – or rather the internet. If I got offline I might have a life.
2. Ground elder. I dream about it. Not in a good way.
3. Thinking about losing weight. Note the thinking bit.
4. Spider Solitaire. Wiped it off every laptop and PC in the house and now find my fingers unconsciously find it online. Aaaghhhh.
5. Books. At least one I can be proud of.

So now I have to pass it on (I hate this bit)….but if you’re not in the list it’s because I think you are basically far too nice and polite to put up swear words on your blog.

1. The Disney 7 en masse (they count as one choice as come as a package).
2. Yummy Mammy: you give me pixie dust, I give you filth. Sorry hon.
3. Aerial Armadillo.
4. Her on the Hill (View from the High Peak).
5. Called to the Bar (Adrian’s beer blog….) – rank nepotism? You betcha.

I’m passing on the glittery gorgeous award to Milla (because she collects this stuff and hasn’t got a sparkly one yet) and also because she’s always a fab read. Don’t think you have to do anything for it, just grab it and feel the lurve.

Monday 11 May 2009

Who's looking over your shoulder (paranoid blog)?

Who reads your blog? OK we all know the people who comment (or at least, we like to think we do, while still harbouring suspicions about some of them) but what about those who don’t? What about the lurkers? It’s all too easy to forget that your writing is whizzing out there to the big wild world and anybody, yes ANYBODY, could be reading. When I first started blogging I didn’t really believe this and couldn’t get my head round the idea that anyone, other than a little gaggle of cyber-friends, would be remotely interested in my warblings.
But I’d forgotten that favourite pastime of the terminally bored and those in need of frequent ego nuzzles – googling oneself.

The day I wrote about T***y W***te (I’m being careful – see) will forever remain the most cringe-inducing of my life (check out this link if you want to smirk at my shame – you have to read all the comments to get the full picture). Then there was Rachel Johnson (oh heck - incoming - I’d better duck) who sent a series of emails accusing me of being a stalker and a holistic therapist (both equally untrue) and then (having eventually become quite nice – to the point where we were talking about meeting up for a drink) proceeded to slag me off in several (I think the final count was three) newspaper features. I’m happy to give you copy, Rachel, but cut out the hypocrisy next time eh? Just call me a mad stalker to my face as well as in print.
Anyhow. Enough already and I SO thought I was over that (note to self: practice forgiveness ritual on RJ). However, what I really hadn’t expected was to find out that my desperate ramblings were being read by the family.

‘Hello, everything alright?’ My mother-in-law sounded cautious, edgy even, on the phone.
‘Yes. Everything alright with you?’ Feeling a little worried.
‘Oh yes. Are you sure everything’s alright?’
Any more ‘alrights’ and we were going to break into a rendition of ‘Everything alright, yes everything’s fine’ from Jesus Christ Superstar.
‘Yes, truly, we’re fine. Are you OK? You’re sounding weird.’
A long pause.
‘Well. Is it true that Adrian’s had a chest x-ray?’
What? Cogs whirring round in my head. Didn’t take long to figure out where this had come from.
‘OK. Someone’s been reading my blog.’
‘I wrote on the blog about going to have a chest x-ray. Me going. Not Adrian. But someone got muddled up and left a comment asking how Adrian was.’
‘Are you sure he hasn’t had a chest x-ray?’
‘Yes, of course I am. I had it.’
‘Oh, thank God.’ Pause… ‘I mean, not that I’m not worried about you having an x-ray. Not at all.’
‘I understand. It’s fine. Really. But who’s been reading the blog?’
Long deep silence. But really there were only two likely contenders and I guessed right that it was Adrian’s cousin. So, if you’re reading this Beth, do me a favour and say ‘hi’ in the comments! And if anyone else is out there reading and keeping schtum, go on – cheer me up (or freak me out) and announce yourselves.

One of these days I’m going to have to shed discretion to the wind and blog about Liz Jones, the Daily Mail writer and YOU magazine columnist who seems dead-set on painting a ridiculously stereotypical portrait of country life, packed with clichés such as the pubs that still serve rum babas (er, where would that be, Liz?) and the population of ancient men and women with beards (all clad in our wellies and Barbours). I could put her straight on a few things, like the fact that we DON’T shoot furry things on Sundays (that’s bits of clay plate that are being blasted to kingdom come). But I think I’m in enough trouble for one day so might save that for tomorrow….

Meanwhile, over at my other blog – Never Knowingly Overwhelmed – I’m pondering whether Reiki is fabulous or purely a sneaky form of New Age pyramid selling. We’re debating whether breast-feeding advocacy is going too far and wondering if children should be allowed to play rugby. Oh, and getting all wistful about fabulous spa treats…. Come on over and join the debate…..oh, and leave a comment…..

And the DUPLO winner is......

Huge thanks to everyone who entered the LEGO DUPLO competition. I had cajoling and unseemly begging and some people (no names, you know who you are) even threatened to come down and wrestle the DUPLO off me.... Can I just say that this would never be a good idea as tough grown men have been known to weep and run when Asbo gets his teeth into the, er, tender zone.

Anyhow, after a few abortive attempts to get Asbo to pick the winners from a hat, we tried another tack. We coated the names in gravy (outside, I hasten to add) and watched which were eaten first (all names were coated in exactly the same amount of gravy before anyone shouts 'fix').

First into the JRT's gullet was:

Pipany (with unseemly haste)

He then licked a few but in the end went for Amy.

So huge congratulations to you both. I have sent your postal addresses to the nice people at Lego who will be sending out your DUPLO kits as soon as humanly possible. Commiserations to those who were unlucky this time - I am trying very hard to figure out how to track down your various requests for future giveaways - ie vodka, donkeys, spa trips, cars....

For more info on DUPLO.....

Normal service will be resumed soon on the blog.... Meanwhile, if anyone wants to offer my good readers more delightful giveaways, do get in touch!

You might also be interested in my new blog Never Knowingly Overwhelmed which will occasionally be reviewing carefully picked products, trips and treatments.

Thursday 7 May 2009

er, I have a new book out - apparently

Was idly wandering around Amazon, as you do, when stumbled upon a book called The Smudging and Blessings Book, just published. Hmm, looks nice, I thought, wonder who wrote that. Umm, turns out I did. Well, that was a weird way to start the day. A little explanation maybe is called for here. Years ago I was asked to put together The Smudge Pack – a book based on Native American cleansing and space clearing. The pack included a book, a smudge stick (a bundle of herbs you light and waft around to cleanse yourself, other people and your home). There was also a candle, a crystal and maybe some essential oil (it was so long ago I forget). At the time my publisher swore it was going to ‘go stellar’ and make me a wodge of money. Sadly she was wrong. This was around the time she told me I was going to become a ‘brand’ and yup, still waiting for that to happen. But now it seems the US publisher has brushed it off and repackaged the book. Nice I suppose but kind of wish someone had told me. I know my life is out of control but this really is ridiculous.

Maybe it’s time to google myself and find out if I’ve written any other books lately.

Actually I really have written a new book – at least I have a fleeting memory of typing furiously for a few months – so pretty sure it’s happening. I don’t usually plug my work on this blog but these are tough times so needs must and this one is quite amusing. It’s called The Mind Body Spirit Miscellany and should be coming out some time in the next few months (earlier in the US than in the UK). It was a hoot to write as I had to dig out unusual, useful and downright bizarre stories, facts and self-help tips from the broad wide fields of natural health, mythology, psychology, symbolism, religion, esoterica and the supernatural.

A few of my favourites include:

· how to conduct a home séance
· how to master lucid dreaming
· how to locate ley lines
· ghosts in the Viking sagas
· essential oils that pests hate
· water spirits of the world
· the ghost hunter’s tool kit
· how to practice CaoDai
· how to make herbal cough drops

As you can see, it’s all vital stuff. Of course, if I’d been smart I’d have written The Miscellany of Getting By and Making Do but hey ho, those kinds of books are going to be ten a penny and at least with mine you can have some fun while the ship is sinking.
Some of it is actually pretty useful – in a sort of left-field way. Take onychomancy. Heard of that? No, thought not. It’s a form of divination – the art of reading symbols formed by the reflection of sunlight on the oiled fingernails of a child? Grab a nearby child and try it. Tongue analysis can be handy too. Bet you didn’t know that if the right-hand side of your partner’s tongue is pink with a flecked texture, this can indicate lying and unfaithfulness?

I haven’t looked at Adrian’s lately and can’t right now as he’s off in Dorset on a brewery visit, having stayed overnight in some smart hotel. Hey ho. Better cop a look when he gets back. So it was left to James to get me up this morning.

‘It’s 7am, mum. Are you getting up?’
Oh shit.
‘Don’t worry. I’ll let the dog out – he’s been howling for the last hour.’
He has?

I am such a lousy mother. In fact, let’s face it, I’m pretty hopeless all round. My child has to get me up. I don’t even know I’ve got a new book out. I don’t even have a clean house or a tidy garden. While other career women are sitting in meetings or holding serious conference calls, I’m hurtling round a rollercoaster at pucking DisneyWorld. The older I get, the more disorganised and out of control I feel. I keep waiting for someone or something to haul me out of my torpor and shake me hard.

OK, off to pull myself together and get a grip. I might be some time. In the meantime, you can see the books I know I’ve written over at my new ‘serious’ blog – Never Knowingly Overwhelmed. It’s kind of a work in progress so let me know what you think. And do tell me if you stumble over any other books I might have written…..
By the way, there's still time to enter into the draw for FREE LEGO DUPLO.....just ask nicely in the comments section of the post before this.......the draw will take place on Sunday.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Diary of a Desperate DUPLO donating woman (OK, this is weird)

I thought Disney was surreal enough (what with pin-swapping and grown people wandering round in mouse ears) but life back home is turning a little odd too.
I returned to find I was double-booked for two funerals yesterday. Given one was in London and one was twenty minutes away, there wasn’t too much decision-making involved. Clifford was our old neighbour back when we lived up on the weird windswept moor (for any readers who go back a long way with me you might remember him as the flirtatious old dog who used to growl, ‘they don’t call it SExmoor for nothing’ accompanied by a lascivious leer and a finger tickling down your backbone and coming to rest, cupping your arse. For all that I was very fond of Cliff and even fonder of his long-suffering (if redoubtable) wife. So we headed across the moor back into our old life.
‘We don’t want to be too early,’ worried Adrian. Mainly worried, I hasten to add, because he didn’t want to bump into a certain ex-friend. It all went wrong when the chap had an affair, news got out – to his wife eventually – and the ex-friend blamed Adrian (very unfairly as it happens). But anyhow… So we dawdled, and went past our old place and eventually……
‘Oh shit. Think it might be busy.’
The entire hill was jam-packed with 4x4s and quad bikes and tractors. Sure enough, it was standing room only in the church. The average age was about 70 and, as we waited for the cortege, there was a small concerto for hearing aid (high-pitched squeaks and squeals) followed by a couple of deep sigh farts. It was a great funeral (if you can say that). Cliff was a hunting man (fox, stag, otter, mink, women) and we were only surprised that the church wasn’t packed with hounds. As it was the service ended with a rousing rendition of a local hunting song.

We slid out before the hunting horns got going and hurtled back home. I flung Adrian out of the car and carried on to town to get a chest x-ray (nothing horrid – at least I hope not – doctor just scared of litigation so covering all eventualities. Seriously hope those aren’t famous last words). Stalk into X-ray clad head to toe in black and the chap behind reception seems a bit bemused.
‘Are you clergy?’
Do I look like a vicar in high heels, slim black trousers and a coat with three-quarter sleeves? Is the make-up and earrings a bit of a giveaway?
‘No. I’ve been to a funeral.’
‘Ah. I wondered. Concentrates the mind, doesn’t it?’
‘Er, yes.’
‘He he, don’t worry. I’ll give you a good x-ray and if you’ve got lung cancer I won’t tell you. No point making a bad day worse.’
‘Er, thank you.’ I think.

So I sit in M&S drinking decaf and gazing gloomily at my trolley waiting until it’s time to pick up James from school. He’s fed up as they got thrashed playing cricket.
‘I got one run.’
‘Oh dear. That’s rubbish, isn’t it?’
Frown and hurt look. ‘I was the third highest scoring batsman.’
‘That’s great!’
‘Oh don’t patronise me.’
Really, you can’t win.
Anyhow, home James and a flurry of the usual when an email pings in.

Would I like a set of LEGO DUPLO?
Hmm, not really. My son is ten and, last time I looked, DUPLO was for toddlers. Now had it been the Battlestar….
‘Well, you could give them away to your readers.’

What is going ON with this blogging lark? First I get flown to Florida, now I’m being offered free LEGO. I said no, the chap from LEGO said, aw, go on….your readers will love it. So, in the spirit of wild generosity, I present Diary of a Desperate DUPLO Donating Woman. It’s got a ring, don’t you think?

Here’s the juice. LEGO are offering two sets of DUPLO. Each set comprises two boxes: one’s a funky Zoo type playset and the other one is a groovy police set (so the nice policemen can arrest the penguins or vice versa). If you’d like one bung a comment below and, come the end of the weekend, I’ll get Asbo to put out the magic paw and pick two wildly random winners. Sadly, you have to be in the UK for this and LEGO do ask that you visit their blog and report on how the sets went down with your children…..but hey, no hardship really?
Click here to see the sets….

And watch this space. Today DUPLO, who knows what might happen tomorrow….Spa week at Champneys? Laptops? Plasma TVs? Surreal. Just surreal.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Exmoorjane goes mad in cyberspace

Someone has stuck my head in a spin cycle and it’s really deeply unpleasant. A week away with madly sussed cyber-people instilled that awful sense of ‘I’m missing out and somewhere out there is a world I should be prancing around in.’ What is really scary is that that world isn’t even real – it’s all up there floating in cyberspace.

As Family Affairs says, when we met the US uber-mommy bloggers we all felt a bit inadequate. Not because we didn’t have inch-thick pancake and hair that doesn’t move in a hurricane but because some of us seemed to be stuck in the Dark Ages of the blogosphere. I developed blog-shame: suddenly my little blog seemed a bit parochial, a tad juvenile, just a bit pathetic.
So I spent yesterday trying to get a bit more on the ball. Within the space of 24 hours I have joined British Mummy Bloggers and Twitter, have had a feeding frenzy on Facebook and even started a new blog (more later on that – it’s very much in the embryonic stage and may well miscarry). Sorry about the awful pregnancy metaphor but I hadn’t even realised that I was an official Mummy Blogger and now feel obligated to toss in the odd comment about children or babies or posset or potty training (now imagining a flurry of frantic clicks as my small band of followers all desert me en masse).
Not only am I a Mummy Blogger, but I am something like the 39th best Mummy Blogger in the UK (which is slightly scary and not a great recommendation for the rest). Nice though (and how low is my self-esteem that something quite so arbitrary makes me feel good about myself?). I wonder if I’m on any other blog ratings – could score highly on totally random comments apropos of nothing and even higher on dog crap.
Trouble with all this social networking malarkey is that you end up doing even less work than before, if that were possible.

At the moment I should be:
· Writing my agony aunt column.
· Pitching ideas
· Writing a book proposal
· Topping up bird feeders
· Scraping the dust off at least part of the house
· Clearing a path from the front door to the kitchen
· Putting away my clothes from the trip
· Picking up four deckchairs which have blown across the lawn

Instead I am cackling like a drain at the photos of us betabritmummybloggers at Disney and pondering whether to get an iPhone or a Blackberry so I can go mobile with my newly acquired addiction.

Someone shout at me. Please. Or, alternatively, join me in the madness (click on the links to the right for twitter and BMM)…..

Monday 4 May 2009

Reality bites (and no, it's not Asbo)

Back to reality. After a week here…….

I'm back here....

The contrast couldn’t be more extreme really. Having slept for ten hours’ straight something seemed profoundly wrong about being woken up by a child yelling. My bed had shrunk and there was something large and snoring in it. I couldn’t flick a switch and watch CNN on a vast plasma screen. Wrong, just wrong.
Even more wrong was the fact that someone had taken away sun and warmth and replaced it with dull, cold and windy.
Breakfast? Bowl of Morrisons No Added Sugar Muesli and a mug of stewed tea. What happened to Mickey Mouse waffles and maple syrup? Freshly squeezed orange juice? Where is the nice waiter refilling my coffee cup every five minutes? Why aren’t there vast Disney characters with big white hands patting my head?
Sure it’s great to be home and lovely to see my boys. James was ridiculously and rather pathetically pleased with his Disney goodie bag (though mostly impressed with the Mickey Mouse pen and the straw that changes colour when you drink through it and which doubles up as a whistle). ‘Did you buy this, Mum?’
Crosses fingers behind back and blithely lies. ‘Yes, of course, darling.’
‘Where’s the price tag in dollars?’
He looked even more suspicious when he got to the soap, mouth wash and toothbrush. ‘There’s no Mickey on this toothbrush, Mum. Did this come from your room?’
God the child is sussed. ‘Yup. It certainly did.’
Honesty in small matters allows much greater lies to pass unnoticed.

I was given the tenth degree on which rides I’d been on. He got incredibly excited when I told him about the Hell which was Expedition Everest (a rollercoaster type terror experience which make me shake and – yup – cry. Not with joy, let me hasten to add).
‘Show me on Youtube.’
Good plan. So we clicked and watched and, I ask you, what is WRONG with the world that the most seriously frightening thing I’ve ever done looked totally tame.
‘People are screaming.’ I pointed out.
‘Yeah, you do that when you’re on a ride. It’s part of the fun.’
I told them about the shows and the films and the rides and the animals and James was positively fizzing with excitement.
‘When can we go?’
Adrian had the look of someone about to put to death by firing squad.
‘That sounds like the most revolting thing in the entire world. Do you really mean to say that vast Disney characters accost you when you’re EATING?’ He shuddered.
‘Would you go Mummy?’
Would I? If you’d asked me that a week ago, I’d have been firmly with Adrian in the Over My Dead Body stance. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ll admit I was impressed by a lot of it and it wasn’t as plastic as I’d been expecting. Magic Kingdom is a bit too much for me (very crowded and cute on cute) but Animal Kingdom was immaculately done and the water parks were deeply tempting. The shows are top-notch and the fireworks are breathtaking. If you can afford to stay in the deluxe hotels, the accommodation is impressive too (we stayed in the Beach Club Resort which was very relaxed and comfortable). If you want uber-smart the Grand Floridian is your place while I was pretty knocked out by the Lodge at Animal Kingdom). We had some superb food in some top-notch restaurants and much of the merchandising is – and here I worry about myself – very discrete and desirable. So, in a nutshell, yes I would (given the budget to do it top dollar). Not for me, I hasten to add, but for James who would, without a shadow of a doubt, adore every goddamn magical moment.
I say, not for me, but – if you offered me the chance to go back to Disney with my band of bloggers, I’d bite off your hand (actually, I’d be jumping up and down at the thought of a weekend in Croydon with this lot). These women are seriously brilliant. I haven’t laughed so much in years (certainly not since becoming a mother). I won’t go into the in jokes and mad silly things that happened (mainly because I promised I wouldn’t be libellous and this blog is intended for general, not X-rated, consumption) but I would urge you to check out their blogs. Don’t be misled by the grown-up nature of some of their writing – they are all totally certifiably crackers.

Little Mummy
Are we there yet, Mummy?
You’ve got your hands full

Family Affairs
Dulwich Divorcee
English Mum in Ireland

Friday 1 May 2009

Hanging out in the rest rooms.....

I’m sitting on the loo going off into a reverie about how much better American loos are than British ones when a small voice pipes up from the next cubicle.
‘I need to see your feet.’
Eh? My head snaps round like the girl in The Exorcist. Why does a small child want to see my feet? Then, halleluyah, an older voice (obviously, hopefully, her mother) replies.
‘I’m right here.’
‘I need to see your feet,’ the child repeats firmly. Clearly the kind who won’t be fobbed off in any way.
‘But I’m here. I’ll never leave you.’
It’s said with a kind of almost scary intensity. What’s the story, you wonder.
‘I need to see your feet.’
Oh for Pete’s sake, stick your foot under the door, lady. But no, the discussion continues.
‘You are my life.’
‘I NEED to see your feet.’
‘You are the reason I wake up in the morning.’
What’s this got to do with the poor child seeing her mother’s foot under the cubicle?
‘But I woke up before you.’
You’ve got to hand it to the kid. I couldn’t really hang around all day eavesdropping in (however entertaining) so I got up and the loo obligingly flushed for me (SO much more hygienic).

The major reason people come to Walt Disney World apparently is because they want to see their children having fun. Forget the scary brides and the college student get-togethers and the anniversary celebrations, it all makes a lot more sense when you focus on the children. When you travel without your own child, you become hyper-aware of other people’s and, on the whole, children here do seem to be having a ball. Even my cynical soul couldn’t argue with a child’s face lighting up when they see a favourite film come to life. So, OK, hands up, this was the day when I smiled.

I hate rollercoasters but I’m charmed by sweet pretty rides. So Peter Pan’s flight, where you float over London (with a very weird-looking Tower Bridge) and Neverland was very cute. Ditto It’s a Small World. James would have loved the Buzz Lightyear shoot-out ride while I was totally entranced by the Haunted House ride with pretty incredible visual effects – at one point you’re looking down onto a huge ballroom with holographic dancers – mesmeric.

The entertainment outside is impressive too. I jigged a bit to the Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It! Street party (yeah, thanks a bunch littlemummy for catching that on video) and oohed and aahed over the Wishes firework display (a little girl next to me nearly fell off her chair when Tinkerbell flew down from the Magic Castle. But the loveliest moment came during the SpectroMagic Parade (a sort of carnival with lit-up floats) when a little girl couldn’t believe her eyes when Snow White rushed over to her and planted a kiss on her cheek.
Pint-sized princesses wander around with tiaras and frothy dresses, having been ‘bibbidi bobbidi booed’ with a mini-makeover.

The sane cynical part of me says that this is all too unreal. Is this how it starts? How children grow up to become teenagers who think that they will walk straight into a job as a pop star, a model, a TV ‘celebrity’? That they can have everything they want with a snap of the fingers (and the flexing of a credit card)? Part of me still worries about a holiday in which nothing goes wrong – where there is no duff day when everyone gets bored and irritable and shouts at each other. When there’s no nasty waitress or rude beach attendant to bond you together in family hatred solidarity? Is this reality? No, of course not. But then, is it wrong to have a perfect holiday? Is it just my puritanical Britishness that thinks that a bit of grot, a bit of grim and grime, is character-building and necessary? Dunno.

Still, there is hope for Disney. When my supper at the Magical Kingdom comes, the whole shebang is stone cold. Fantastic. Excellent. Just what I needed to bring me back down to earth (I really was floating off for a moment there). Hmm, maybe Disney has researched this too and it was all planned. A little imperfection to highlight the general perfection? Am I getting paranoid here?