Thursday, 27 September 2012

Sitemeter - you're fired!

That's what I love about this disposable society we live in a few clicks and that's it chucked into the virtual wastebasket never to be retreived again.
I feel empowered as I sit here tapping away inexpertly on the keyboard. I can say: "Sitemeter - you're fired!" and aprt from the little message querying me to ask if I really am sure I want to get rid of it, that's it.
My decision to chuck away what has become a daily, nay hourly ritual, on my computer follows two days of no action whatsoever on Sitemeter, no new stats, nothing- who new how simple it would be to give it all  up? I thought I was an addict.
You see I have tried before to get rid of it but failed miserably. For while it worked it was impossible to forgo. I felt guilty about my constant checking, and stupid when I became upset that I had had no visitors to my blog for more than two hours on anyone day. Sitemeter fed my vanity.
But now it is gone.
Now I have a curious sense of loss and I am not quite sure what to do with all that time I now find on my hands. My fingers hover over the mouse but there is nothing to click.
But there again there is always the Blogger Stats..just to keep me entertained of course!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

How do you value your home?

Our House circa 1880
You can put a value on a house, in fact you can put a value on most things but putting a value on your home is a little more difficult.
Having had the Estate Agent round finally on Monday I now know an awful lot more about my house and indeed my home than I knew before.
For example my house is a lot larger than I thought - by about 2,000 sq ft. That's twice the size of my flat in London and that was considered a large two bedroom apartment. In fact 2,000 sq ft is a modest sized house in most people's language and I didn't even realise!
We've sort of seeped into filling the place up. It wasn't deliberate, because when we first moved in we only lived in the middle bit; a walk-in kitchen, two downstairs rooms and a bedroom and a bathroom upstairs. Gradually over the years, as we reinstated the house from wreck to habitable living space, we opened more and more of it up and spread. We bought chairs and tables, beds and cupboards as we needed so we never actually noticed how much we accumulated but looking at it through the eyes of the Estate Agent it was brought home with a rather sickening thought - how the heck am I ever going to be able to downsize?
The enormity of just that thought almost paralysed me as I tripped down the stairs while showing the Estate Agent round. I hope he didn't see the fear in my eyes or noticed how I gabbled.
To relax myself I started to listen to what he had to say - he was frightfully upbeat and optimistic and when at the end we sat down and got to the nitty gritty I was pleasantly surprised. The estimated value was more than I feared though not as much as I had hoped.
Selling the house will be a matter of semantics as the valuation is not quite enough to make the decision easy though not as bad as to make a move an impossibility.
But selling the home is a far more difficult problem.
Our House 2003 when work had just started!
As I showed off the place I told the agent all about the history of the house, the things that we had found and found out,  the stories behind the baby's skeleton in wall, the crude letters etched on the window in my office, poor pussy the mummified cat, the pram in the attic, the WAG who built the vast and garish 'modern' extension around the time Henry VIII was having a fling with Anne Boleyn,  how a Barley Baron farmer decided he needed to keep up with the Joneses in 1800s and Georginified the lot only to go bankrupt and have to sell.
And all the time I was telling the stories and making jokes and pointing out the carvings and the wall painting and other silly little things that we discovered int eh last decade as we brought this place back to life I saw how we had become part of the tapestry of the history of the house - a small part.
I'd like to think a crucial part.
Our House 2009
I looked out the window and I saw my eldest as a baby sitting on the seat of the big bright yellow decrepit dumper truck we acquired to do all the work that needed to be done. I saw him pretending to drive with his too large baseball cap on his head,laughing uproariously and banging excitedly on the horn.
I saw the men and boys who all worked so hard to bring this place back from wreck to home like ghosts laughing and chatting in my minds eye. All those memories crowding, demanding attention. Begging me not to forget.
And I know that my head should rule my heart but this house is too much a part of who my family is for any decision to be easy.
We LIVE here.
I suspect we will become history here too.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Head over heart

Through my window

Sometimes you can’t follow your heart, however much you want to. It doesn’t make you feel good and you know, because it is your head speaking, that the decision you make will never leave you satisfied even if you know it is the right decision to make.
It wasn’t the right decision to take on this house as far as my head was concerned but my head wasn’t in charge all those years ago. We were young enough and dumb enough to think because we willed it so it would happen and for a while my heart got its way. It was a wildly romantic foolhardy thing to do and now the right decision is to sell – if we can.
I have spent the past 11 years making this place our home. I won’t tell you how much it cost but let’s say that it if we hadn’t bought it, sending the kids to private school, wintering in Aspen every winter and sunning ourselves in the dolce vita each summer would have been well within our means, and you might, just might, come close.
We saw it as an overgrown wreck and rescued it. It has been a labour, mostly of love and occasionally of sheer desperation.
Oh how I wish you’d seen it when we first arrived. Brown and orange pub carpet all over the place, mould, rot, rates, mice, mushrooms in the cupboards, holes in the roof, bats, gnats and horrendously overgrown garden all dark and dingy and smelling oh how it smelled. Now it is bright and airy and showing off in all its glory and finally having got everything done I cannot see how we can stay – at least that’s what my head says.
Life is tough for everyone; it’s tough for us too. I give up how many hopeful traders pop up our drive thinking that just because we are in the big house we have dosh to spare.
“No sweethearts, I cannot spend £500 on a pair of Lutychens Benches and no I don’t care if that is a bargain I just don’t have the money even if I did want them!”
“No I don’t want a standard 12 year old box pyramid at £150, read my lips I don’t have the cash to spare.”
“If I could afford £3,000 to spray tar shingle my drive I promise I would do it but as it is are you joking!?”
All of these terribly nice people live in cloud cuckoo land a big house doesn’t necessarily mean a bored housewife who needs to shop in order to survive. It just might mean an idealistic couple who are getting a heavy dose of reality.
Living the dream is expensive and time consuming and my boys need us to be there for them and I don’t want to spend my time saying no because the house comes first in both time and money.
We were ridiculously naive when we bought the house and now we have to grow up and sell it.
But my heart is railing against my head and I really don’t want to do it.
This is our home, it’s where my boys were born, I grew up and became a mother and wife here, I’ve, no we’ve, all been through so much, poured so much of ourselves in this wonderful old place.
I just can’t leave.
I cannot even think of putting it on the market but that’s my heart speaking and it's my head that is in charge now…
On Friday the estate agent is dropping by and I truly am dreading what he is going to say my heart will just die if he values it to high as we'll have to sell but if he values it too low we're going to be stuck and that could be disaster for us financially...

Monday, 17 September 2012

Bringing up Boys: Failure to launch…

Contemplating anything other than homework

We’re in Year Two, the time where the learning through play years metamorphoses into serious learning.
Problem is how to get your independent free spirited boys to toe the line especially when it comes to homework. -the mere mention of which has me twitching and looking round desperately for an alcoholic prop.
We start of slowly enough with spellings. Things such as PLAY, DAY STAY, FRAY at the seams…no problem easy peasy that is until we have to write a sentence using the words.
Bog Boy says nah he doesn’t need to.
I leave it like that to see if he will change his mind once he gets his homework back from his teacher.
So I trundle into school for pick up expecting a very downcast little boy but he blithely tells me when I ask how his spelling test went that he didn’t get a sticker.
“Oh!” says I. “Why not?”
“Because I didn’t do them sentences.”
“Will you do the sentences this week then?”
“No.” He says, “I won’t!”
“Why not?”
“I don’t like stickers…”
We’re going to have an interesting year ahead…

Saturday, 15 September 2012


Wildlife in my Garden - Grass Snake (Natrix Natrix)
"Mum, I've found a Snake! Come quickly and see it!"
Not necessarily the words a mother wants to hear shouted excitedly by their youngest child. Come on, I've lived in far too many places around the world to greet that announcement with anything but extreme concern, nay fright. That's why I love England so - no snakes.
Well, that's what I thought.
Of course I know that there are snakes in England, just that I've never seen one. The only ones I have ever heard of, of course, are Adders. Those, I know, are extremely shy and retiring preferring not to be disturbed and thus keeping as far a way from humankind as possible. It's a snake I can live with, one that doesn't want to be near me. Problem is, I do know that when disturbed an Adder is likely to act a bit like me.
Attack first think about it later.
So with my youngest yelling snake you can imagine that I was like Usain Bolt off the starting blocks, in fact I truly believe he would have been hard pressed to beat me as I shot outside to snatch my boy to safety.
I felt a complete nit.
For the snake was the tiniest I have ever seen - it was exquisite.
It could not have been more than 15 centimetres long, it's head a tiny arrow broad across the eyes and snub nosed. I was fascinated by its tiny black tongue and the fact that as we watched it I could actually hear it hiss. This tiny toy of a creature was just one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a very long time.
I luckily had my camera at the ready and I am afraid for a few minutes I made it extremely cross, but because it was so small, and the fact that I identified it as a grass snake and thus harmless, I felt quite safe to intrude upon its dignity.
It moved surprisingly quickly and coiled and sprung just like its really rather venomous, and quite considerably larger, cousins. The boys got tired of watching it far quicker than myself, and had long gone before the snake too made its last bow disappearing through the grass muttering to itself about intrusion and invasion of privacy.
I now know I have snakes in my garden but I am far more sanguine about their presence as long as they all remain as small. Luckily I don't think I'll see one again as this is the first one spotted in 11 years of living here and although I will still be wary of snakes I am glad it was brought to my notice...

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Sometimes that is the only way to deal with the boys.
And Holler a bit.
It is quite exhausting but effective....eventually.
I have a loud voice, thank heavens, otherwise I would have been totally rolled over (metaphorically speaking) and completely out of control.
As it is I am only mildly out of control but those looking on may beg to differ.
If I had had a quiet and unassuming way about me then I fear things could have been a lot worse. I would be one of those mothers who ineffectually asks her son to stop being so rough with Little Johnny as he may not like being  put head first down in the toilet and to not pull the pretty picture off the wall in the Sainsbury wing of the National Portrait Gallery as other people may want to look at it too.
No, with my boys I have found there is only one way to get through to them...
Say NO to any request and shout when they fail to obey an order immediately; in fact shout the order first just so they know that what you are saying is important.
I would love to just be able to request they do something but I have found that they just ignore me especially when they think they have something better to do.
So I gird my loins in the morning to get them up, we start off pleasantly enough. Good mornings are said and curtains are drawn and I'll add a chirpy little comment about the day ahead.
But by the time I have tripped over the plethora of toys and dirty clothes strewn across the floor and trodden on the ubiquitous bit of Lego in my bare feet to reach the effing curtains I am in top notch scream mode - it gets them out of bed quick enough.
Getting them brushing teeth and going to the loo, washing their faces etc is like wading through treacle it takes so long. I goad and plead and threaten and hassle before stomping off downstairs threatening them with dire consequences if they don't get down here in five minutes.
About twenty minutes later they are just about ready to have breakfast and I am boiling like a kettle. Food is thrust at them and any pretence of requesting and asking nicely has been banished for the duration.
I do try, honest I do! I keep saying to myself I need to be nice adn calm and motherly, but whenever I am, I just feel I am being taken advantage of.
I love them to bits but there is only one way to deal with them - shout like Sergeant Major and order not ask.
It hasn't done them any harm as far as I can see. And as I type this out they are waiting for me in their bedrooms to say goodnight, they are trying very hard not to giggle but failing...dismally..
PS. When I want them to feel real fear I, of course, just whisper...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

And woman invented wine...

There is no doubt about it a woman invented wine.
A man may refine it and take over it and play god only knows what with it, but a woman definitely invented it.
While Man was out hunting and doing it large on the I AM MAN front in the Stone Age, Woman was left at home with the kids bored out of her tiny mind with all that gathering, skinning, curing, preserving, hand painting lark waiting for him to make an appearance so she could get out of the cave and let her hair down for a bit like she used to before like when she had a career...
So, there she is looking at a bunch of withered grapes and going how in the heck am I going to make this lot stretch all winter when she says what the heck and throws them at the wall in frustration. A few days later she comes across the mess she hurriedly hid when HE came home and says smells nice and takes a sip. It tastes good and before she knows it she’s rolling and the fact that she’s left for days on end on her tod makes no difference at all.
He comes home and finds she’s way more amenable than ever before and the rest they say is history…
Tonight I have certainly indulged - it has taken the edge off a clearly stressful day of toing and froing and not getting very much done other than dropping off and collecting boys from school, sorting out compulsory after school activities, seeing the community paediatrician, doing the laundry, feeding the chickens, working out how to save a feral whippet from a fate worse than death (here’s hoping Cesar Milan will come up trumps) picking up and dropping off the painter, squeezing in two hours of work and still only getting one story to the editor all rounded off by spending three hours on homework which should have only taken 20 minutes...
I am only two days into the school year but the end of it I will be a certified dipsomaniac!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Bringing up Boys – when they don’t want to kiss you at the school gate

The First Day At School
It has finally come to pass the day when my eldest squirms out of my embrace hastily muttering: “Mummm! Not here.”
And then scampers off to class on his own.
I should have seen it coming; I’ve spent all Summer banging on at him to grow up and get with the programme. It shouldn’t have come as a big surprise.
But it did.
And off he went to his new class, a school new year and I wasn’t with him. As I look after him walking away on his own, school bag slung across his back, hands in pockets, feet already scuffing the ground, I remember so vividly that first day at school.
Everything was so stiff and shiny, new and invariably way too large. I recall my enforced jolliness as I tried not to cry lest I start him off, not that he seemed that bothered then if I remember rightly. He was just too excited. I took photos of all of his class that day. And looking now at the photograph they seem so small and young and yet at the time I thought the exact opposite. I thought gone is my toddler and in front of me a fresh faced schoolboy already years older than I remembered him from only the day before.
And now six years later a big part of me wants to hurtle after him and grab his hand so we can march in together but it’s not a very cool (sorry he hates me using that word as it’s SO last year) good thing to do is it?
The whole point of my mithering him all over the holidays was just so he could be like this – independent, confident, grown-up.
A separate entity.
Someone who can stand up for himself without needing an adult by him in order to get on with his life.
I have succeeded in my goal. All that hard work over the Summer has paid off.
So why do I feel so bereft?

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Joys of Camping

Toasting Marshmallows on an open fire

There is something revoltingly glorious about camping in the UK. You’ll either be living like a drowned rat or else quietly baking under canvas. It is something you just have to take on the chin with bulldog spirit and all that clap trap.
But oh how virtuous you feel after the ordeal is over – not that you’d ever admit that you had fun.
I certainly didn’t want to admit it after I was dragged into it last weekend. I had the offer of a girly night all laid on, champagne, lasagna, Pavlova and a whole lot of gossip. BUT my Darling husband decided to invite all and sundry and typically there was one Mum who thought it would be a right laugh.
I had no choice I couldn’t possibly let her camp alone with a bunch of blokes (the other halves of those who had organised the girly night) so I forced a smile and say yes it would be a right laugh and gave up my girly night.
And it was brilliant.
It was a right laugh, really it was, even though I hardly got any sleep at all what with wild ponies snorting and snuffling through the camp stealing bananas and apple juice, fidgety children, snoring for Britain husbands and deflating mattresses.
We taught the boys how to make a proper camp fire, how to track deer and ponies, how to cook sweet corn properly and make popcorn too.
They learnt how to go to the loo in the woods and not wet your trousers. How to survive for more than four hours without a single electronic gadget
And to finish it all off marshmallows stuck on the end of proper sticks that you just find lying around.
It was magic and guess what?
I’m signed up for the next big camping adventure!

*To cook sweetcorn properly on an open fire first leave it standing in clean water for 30 minutes with the husk still on. Then place the corn, husks and all, on the fire they will poach beautifully in their skins so to speak and not dry out so you get perfect corn on the cob after only 10 minutes!

Go on you know you want to...


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