Monthly Archives: February 2015

Rerouting the Nile to Muswell Hill

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I had thought that we were doing quite well with our gold-sprayed shoebox Sarcophagus, that was until I saw the fanfare accompanying the arrival of a life-size replica of Tutankhamun’s mausoleum, bourne aloft through the playground by one parent. “And it has a working mechanism so that you can open it and become the mummy,” whispered a fellow mummy in awe.

Welcome to the world of the school project, otherwise known as a masterclass in parent one-upmanship.
In this particular instance homework was creating your own Ancient Egyptian artefact. My daughter decided to make a Sarcophagus.
Having stalked the ladies at Clarks, and actively talked some bewildered lady into buying a pair of burgundy loafers, we bagged ourselves a long narrow box and my daughter set to work creating her very own Ancient Egyptian masterpiece. She persuaded her younger sister to sacrifice a one-armed Tinkerbell to the project and we all watched avidly as my daughter mummified Tinks on the kitchen table. Various body parts were modelled for the Canopic jars and a good job done.
Or so I thought until little Johnny arrived with his colossal, three dimensional, fully interactive replica of the Ancient Pyramid complex of Pharaoh Khufu.
I pondered my next move. Hard landscaping my back garden to exactly mirror the undulations of the Valley of the Kings? Hiring a dromedary camel from London Zoo? Rerouting the Nile to Muswell Hill?
It has been my great joy to watch many examples of this type of parental shenanigans. I remember weeping with laughter at one Christmas assembly when the five ‘Christmas trees’ took to the stage. The children had been asked to design their own costumes. Three were similarly decked out in green tights, green tops with a number of baubles artfully sellotaped to their attire. One poor soul, whose mum had totally forgotten the event was happening, was still in school uniform but strangely clutching a cheese plant in front him, that normally resided by reception. Albeit adorned with a scrap of red tinsel.
And then there was the child whose outfit was so exquisitely sewn it could have been made by the costumiers of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was already outrageously good, but as they walked on stage the Dad rushed to switch on the button that illuminated the entire costume with synchronised, flashing, Christmas lights. Pity cheese plant mum, whose boy looked like death could not come quickly enough.
School projects are the time when all the kids whose parents have a background in architecture and/or design tend to shine. In a former class where two dads were architects there was an openly acknowledged competition between them to see who could produce the more superior project in terms of function, structure and beauty. They would conduct in-depth analysis of each others projects. Or, lest we forget, their sons’ projects.
As far as I could work out size was a key factor in success.
With this in mind, and absolutely no forethought on design or purpose, I remember taping together four of the largest cardboard boxes I could lay my hands on when my daughter was asked to create a mathematical game. For me the overriding criteria for success was the inability of my child to carry the project into school on her own. I wanted a ‘thing’ that required the lifting power of at least two adults. We sort of overlooked the whole maths aspect of the project, but it did have a tunnel down which you could throw socks.
I have to say it was a triumphant moment. The boys in the playground, small and big, were truly impressed with the magnitude of ‘the sock sucker.’
As you can tell I had fallen headfirst into the trap of making the child’s project my own. And really let’s face it, this is not what it is all about. The whole idea of these projects is that the children have a chance to come up with their own ideas, try out new skills and take pride in THEIR accomplishment. Of course you are going to help source materials, handle hot glue, but at the end of the day what sense of achievement can it give them if they simply watch you do their homework.
Also do not try and palm the whole thing off on another parent. My mum still shudders at the recollection of one school holiday playdate where the child’s Mum deposited her six year-old with a wooden spoon and milk bottle and suggested ‘what fun it would be for the girls to do their Tudor doll project together.” It was a project that every parent dreaded. Every summer holiday this class were asked to create miniature Tudor masterpieces and on return to school an exhibition was held for everyone to gaze upon the handiwork. It was a day of judgement for all parents.
My mum, to her credit, refused to acquiesce to this lady’s suggestion and instead my friend and I had a lovely day at Birdworld. In the end the other mum got her dressmaker to run up the project. Nice (home)work if you can get it.

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The birth of grandparents

The Birth of grandparents

It seems a strange irony that, when faced with the overwhelming
evidence of the inadequacy of their own child rearing, ie YOU,
your own parents retain a dogged belief that only they know
how to produce a well rounded and useful member of the human
race – and one that lives beyond its first year. And so, with the birth of the first grandchild, comes the birth of the first
grandparent.

Firstly, be prepared to accept a lot of advice. ‘That child is
cold’ said my Mum, astoundingly arriving at this conclusion despite the fact that 3000 miles and the Atlantic Ocean separated us. ‘I can hear it in her breathing’ she persevered.

“Actually that’s the TV,” I said

“If you have the TV on how can you tell if her breathing is OK?” countered mum. Strange that the onset of my rapid breathing didn’t alert her to the fact that her own child was verging on meltdown.

There is no doubt that pregnancy, birth and the aftermath fundamentally change the relationship you have with your parents. This takes many forms. You gain a greater appreciation for everything your parents have done for you and a greater understanding of the parental choices they have made. You also have to quickly accept that when it comes to grandchildren, grandmother is convinced she knows best.

The most immediate manifestation of this change in our relationship came 12 hours after labour, when I realized I had become surplus to requirements.

While incubating first grandchild I was enveloped in a glow of parental love, care and protection. From my fluffy gestating cocoon I could make all kinds of unreasonable demands for, luxury food, extensive naps and the latest issues of Marie Claire.

Post partum the regime got a whole lot tougher. This was keenly visible in the walk from hospital ward to car. As my husband proudly bore our newborn babe, in her spanking new car seat, my mum raced ahead of him to ensure safe passage. Strangers were politely requested to remove themselves from baby’s flightpath. Coughing in baby’s vicinity was deemed unacceptable and open breathing discouraged. My mother constantly adjusted baby’s blanket and bonnet for optimum temperature.

Meanwhile, virtually comatose after an 18-hour labour and with stitches pulling in all kinds of unpleasant places I limped at least ten metres behind this cavalcade. When my husband, mum and newborn babe disappeared out of the hospital’s revolving door and out of sight I began to worry they might go home without me.

It was probably my breast milk that saved me from total abandonment. This brings me on to another shocking discovery. You no longer own your own body and previously taboo subjects are open to all.

Suddenly my prudish mum discovers a love for discussing bodily functions. To clarify this is a woman who still refers to couples that are shagging, but not committing to each other, as ‘courting’. But suddenly leaky bladders, vaginal tears and anal fissure are all up for grabs over a family Sunday lunch.

“Isn’t it lovely we can talk about nipples and things now,” said Victorian-era mother to my husband, as they examined the instructions for my manual breast pump together “Ooh I think it grabs it and gives it a good squeeze. It’s a bit like milking a cow really isn’t it,” Husband didn’t answer. He just looked a bit sick.
Despite this I was very thankful for the help my parents / new grandparents offered in the early weeks after giving birth. My mum was brilliant for our morale – helping with hot meals and housework, and latterly looking after the older children while I tended to the newborn. Always happy to change a nappy, she answered the door and the telephone, managed guests and let me sleep.

Not everyone gets so lucky.

I know one new mum who just days after bringing baby home had a visit from the mother of all mothers-in-law. This woman arrived, poured herself a large glass of crisp white wine and only paused in her perusal of Hello magazine to ask if anyone else thought it a good idea to stop toddler B from starting up the garden hedge trimmer.

She went on to demand her meal re-cooked with gluten free pasta, dispatched the husband to the off license for “a properly chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio” while running her finger along the dust on the mantelpiece – tutting

Another friend, returning from hospital following a Caesarean section, recollected having to beg her mum to buy some fish fingers to feed her three hungry children. A longer stay in hospital had resulted in a fridge run bare. This grandmother said her weekly hair appointment meant that she didn’t have the time to make the 30-second journey across the street to the corner shop. She simply upped and left.

As the months and years roll on, the thing you can depend upon, is that grandparents will keep you abreast of the areas of parenting where you are still coming up short. This can span the spectrum of academic, behavioural, sociological and physiological problems, but can also focus on single issues such as a child’s haircut.

I have heard of one grandmother who decided that the delectable blonde curls of her three-year-old grandchild were interfering with his ability to run long distance. Against the mother’s express wishes, the next time Granny was babysitting she hotfooted it to the hairdressers and got the cherub’s barnet shorn. It has taken over 24 months of mediation for this particular mother/daughter combo to be talking again. It also provides a salient reminder of the need for you to establish the boundaries of what YOU want for YOUR child.

Even then expect gentle suggestions for better parenting. In the midst of a 4-week blitz of maladies, including chicken pox, cellular occulitis, winter vomiting and diarrhea, and with a
husband showing signs of an OCD induced breakdown- still my mother decided that this was the perfect moment to gift me the book, ‘How To Feed Your Children Healthy Meals’ alternately titled, ‘Stop Feeding Your Kids Crap-You Imbecile’.

“I knew you’d look at me like that”, said mum as I took the book while shoving her out the door. Note, I did take the book. Well it can’t hurt and sometimes, maybe occasionally, mother – that is grandmother – does know best.
Tips for Grandparents

Helpful

Enabling new parents to bag some sleep
Changing nappies
Cooking meals
Knowing when to leave
Getting rid of visitors that have outstayed their welcome

Not Helpful

Touching / peering closely at boobs
Input on contraceptive plans
Giving children Kit Kats for breakfast
Any suggestion that newborn’s name is not entirely perfect.

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Globulous, marmalade, slabs of splendour

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The curly one and I took a little trot around Camden Passage in Islington on Saturday and what a very lovely experience it was. Set back from Upper Street, but a stone’s throw from Angel tube, lies this eclectic bubble of shops selling both nicks and nacks for home and person.
It is famous for its many antique shops, specialising in, amongst other things, Asian ceramics, antique drinking glasses, silverware, old boxes and African waistcoats, as well as housing some contemporary home ware shops and a smattering of market stalls, cafes, restaurants and hairdressers.
Curly and I spent ages pouring over the treasures of a stall selling brass engraved stamps and settled on a penguin, a plaice and an anchor. My ideas is that we can personalise our stationary, and possibly even use these as our new family wax seals. Thus we could be certain that our next dinosaur party invite is not opened by any but the intended recipient.
As part of our recognisance of Camden Passage we happened upon Odyssey20C. I have often passed this shop and been drawn to its beautiful window displays, but today we went in.
The owner, Paul, is a master of composition and the illumination of his vividly-hued glassware is beautiful. The only problem is that the collective display is so spellbinding you end up wanting to buy all four shelves of merchandise, rather than just one item.
In particular these globulous, marmalade, slabs of splendour caught my eye. They are in fact tangerine coloured Whitefriars Architectural slabs from the late 60’s.

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Whitefriars glassworks started in 1680 in London on a site that was originally a monastery of the Carmelite Fathers, hence the name White Friars. In the nineteenth century the firm, also known as James Powell and Sons, became leading glassmakers, leadlighters and stained glass window manufacturers.
These architectural slabs were originally designed for use as panes or glass bricks in windows. They were created in four square and three rectangular glass shapes with different indentations. I love these tangerine slabs. The colour is compelling and they are very tactile. If you want to create a unique kitchen splash back or a stained glass window, herein lies the answer.

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Anyone for synchronised French Horn?

640px-French_horn_front In a bid to make sure that your three-year-old doesn’t fall behind the evolutionary curve of humankind there is no avenue of extra curricular activity parents will not explore. I know perfectly normal, intelligent women who have, admittedly sent their husbands, to queue up at four in the morning to sign up their kid for a gymnastics class. At the head of the queue was some poor Granny who had been there since 2am with just a portable chair and a flask of coffee for company. Three back was a nanny who arrived at 3am and was being paid special night rates to stand in the queue and secure her ward a spot. Slacker Dad, who pitched up at 6am was too late to enrol his offspring. His daughter never did get the opportunity to execute a perfect back salto dismount, but she did learn that sometimes Daddy is unable to follow clear instructions from Mummy, and that this makes her cross. Now I understand the benefits of sport and exercise for children. We all want to improve their hand eye co-ordination, balance and fine motor skills, but where do you draw the line? Parental guilt that you are not doing everything humanly possible to give your child the best start in life, is probably the driving force behind extra curricular insanity. That and the fact that other parents are doing it. You can see the shockwaves of panic ripple through the playground as little Johnny arrives with his French Horn. You look to your own four-year old, busily whacking a bush with a shitty stick and ask: Am I denying the world a wind instrument maestro? Could the horn be his future? This is one of many questions we face. What are the optimal combinations of ages, timings, activities and venues that will produce a cogently balanced individual? That and how much is a French horn. The options are endless: French, Spanish, Mandarin, swimming, gymnastics, fencing, Kung Fu, Tae kwon do, tennis, ballet, tap, modern, street dance, drama, circus skills, spy club, film club, coding, pottery, art, piano, keyboards, clarinet, guitar, saxophone, drums, violin, French Horn, singing and brownies or scouts. To name but a few. I do think that it’s important to expose your children to a range of activities in order to see if they have a natural affinity or love for any particular pastime. But then you can become more selective. My children take part in a brilliant street dance class. I seriously believe that come adolescence and adulthood their ability not to look a total tit on the dance floor will always impress more than an ability to felt. Equally, teaching your kid to swim is a good life skill. They don’t have to smash the 100m freestyle world record, but neither do I want them to drown. Looked at practically I also think that the likelihood of them encountering a mass of water ranks infinitely higher than the chances of meeting a testy musketeer in the mood for a duel. Having said that none of my children have been given the chance to see if they could become England’s new champion foil for the under-18s. Because, just like buying a lottery ticket, you never entirely give up hope that beneath the veneer of your sticky, snotty Scooby Doo fanatic, there beats the heart of genius. I still harbour some hope that my little boy will become a world class footballer. I think the role of footballers’ mum sounds way more fun than footballer’s wife. The perks, but not the need for depilation or spray tanning. To be honest it would also answer a few pressing questions on the subject of pension provision. However, in the absence of sporting glory, I would settle for a child who enjoys a good knock around with their friends. Football is a brilliant, sociable, healthy activity and something they can enjoy for the rest of their lives. If your five-year old has not perfected the down dog yoga manoeuvre, it doesn’t spell disaster and a life destined for physical ineptitude. Equally, it is sometimes important to remember that merely months ago they were utterly delighted to discover that their willy grows magically. It really doesn’t matter that they can’t volley from the net. During term-time I reckon that, in addition to school classes, one physical and one cerebral extra activity a week is enough for the average primary school age kid. They still need time free to do their homework, play with friends and simply be. If you have a bored genius at home then obviously devise your own parenting schedule. This seems to work OK during term-time but come school holidays the frenetic need to fill children’s time with culturally, intellectually and spiritually fulfilling experiences, seems to hit us once again. Clearly you need to make sure that when, back at school, the teacher asks everyone to write a few sentences on what they got up to in the school holiday, yours is not the kid writing; ‘Successfully collected the full series of Tamagotchi toys from the McDonalds Happy Meals selection.” Equally, there has to be a middle ground between this and attempting to fit the development of early mankind and civilisation between the brief recesses of the scholastic year. But we are afraid of social anarchy, or someone else thinking that you are a shit parent. Thus we find ourselves frantically dragging our children around any number of museums, art galleries and exhibitions at the weekends and school holidays. You’ve decided that a day at the science museum is the only way to restore our child’s ability to compete with the Chinese in a global marketplace. As we herd the resistant little buggers around the history of particle science, they repeatedly ask when they’re going to see the bubble man. That or go to the cafe, the shop, the toilet or home. As we carefully breakdown the philosophy behind molecular biology, they try to work out how many raisins they can fit into one nostril. Then how many into their baby brother’s nostril.  Sometimes we need to know when to quit. Please leave any comments and do like me on this link-http://www.selfishmother.com/anyone-for-synchronised-french-horn/<

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Intrepid- we research effective draught excluders, so that you don’t have to

This is an accurate rendition of an exchange that I had with my builder a couple of months ago. Him: ‘Can I have a look at your damp patch.” Me: ‘Only if you show me your hairy draught excluder.’ Kill me now. It transpires a hairy draught excluder, while not particularly a looker, is highly practical and effective at keeping the cold drafts out. And in answer to the throngs that have been clamouring for a post on draught stoppers, here it is. As part of my research I found myself perusing the labyrinth of door-based accoutrements that is www.draught-excluders.com– the draught excluder people. It’s niche, but if you are in the market for a tubular, often sand-filled, object to jam in the bottom crack of your doors, this is a pretty good starting point. Your classic hound shaped excluder- Intrepid obviously approves. wp59859458_05_06 Barkley Basset Dog Draught Excluder, £29.99,www.draught-excluders.com (above) acanthus-draught-excluder William Morris Acanthus Draught Excluder, £39.95, www.draught-excluders.comburgandy-lime-draught-excluder Sivas Tribal Weave Burgandy/Lime Draught Excluder, £29.95, www.draught-excluders.com0000611_sausage-dog-lavender-draught-excluder-black-white-polka-dot_large 0000287_sausage-dog-lavender-draught-excluder-denim-ivory-stripe_large www.cuckooland.com, SCENTED DACHSHUND DRAUGHT EXCLUDER in Polka Dot, and one in stripes, both By CATHERINE TOUGH, £68.00 p_draught-metropol_1561178i TRAIN DRAUGHT EXCLUDER Price £35 John Lewis, 0845 604 9049, www.johnlewis.co.uk il_570xN.611520668_383u Etsy, AmyMacleanHandmade, The Little Sleeping Fox Felt Draught Excluder, (love an anxious looking animal draught excluder) www.etsy.com, $58.69 normal_bamburgh-draught-excluder Not on the High Street, Bamburgh Draught Excluder by PINS AND RIBBONS, £36, www.notonthehighstreet.com luxurious-supersoft-fur-draught-excluder-wolf-h-drawlf Cox & Cox, Luxurious Supersoft Faux Fur Draught Excluder- Wolf, £30, www.coxandcox.co.uk

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