Shine on Harvey Moon

This is the first year without Nan to ask her stories about The War. Her eyes used to light up every time we talked about it. At school, we were tasked to take some item of war memorabilia. Both Nan and Gang pulled out one of there many old boxes of pictures and clippings (the smell was 100% fust) and laid out a selection for me to choose from. There were ration books, old money, photos in various stages of decay and couple of RAF crucifixes made from aircraft perspex along with telegraphs detailing the name and circumstances of the loss. 

At the time there was a big print ad campaign (remember those?) for Eternity aftershave, images of sepia-toned handsome young men with impossibly chiselled features and swept-back oiled hair. I was amazed that one of the old photos showed a long-lost relative who shared a resemblance. Young, handsome and looking terribly British (ie his teeth had a bit of a wonk). 

Nan and Gang would share stories about the dances they used to go to (every night!) and how they would have to walk back home in pitch black making a 30 min walk last at least a few hours (alcohol didn’t help). Dancing, drinking, courting and getting bleach and nylons from whoever you knew on the black market were highlights from the war. Friendships, relationships and loves were forged quickly. Time on some days was normal. Some days life came to an end quickly and without notice. I remember Nan telling me that they were all at a dance once and halfway through the men were scrambled to their planes. One pilot never made it to the air as his plane blew up once he struck up the engine. Sobering stuff.

They didn’t linger on the sad/harrowing events. They gently prospered after the war getting a mortgage for £3,000 which they never thought they’d pay it off in their lifetime. They had a baby (my Mum) and both worked until they retired. They never had too much or complained about having too little. There was always enough money for a pint on a Sunday and a cigar for Gang. I still love the smell of a big fat cigar.

I think about how we used to watch Shine on Harvey Moon and Dad’s Army together. How it would trigger some memory for them and how they’d remember something together, at the same time, that had been long forgotten.

Shine

One of Nan’s favourite expressions was ‘I’m glad I’m on my way out and not on my way in’. I can understand her perspective. Some of the things she never worried about and couldn’t understand were:

  • Selfies
  • Social media – Facewhat?
  • Anxiety
  • Stress 
  • Ladyparts – waxing, periods
  • Obsession with talking about labour (the verb not the party)
  • Sex 
  • Careers
  • Debt
  • Phones

 

It’s pointless to think back and assume that they had a better or worse off life than we have now. But it’s hard now not to be envious of a time when things were a bit more straightforward. Hitler was bad, Churchill was good, family and friends came first and you never hung your washing out on a Sunday.

On this Remembrance Sunday I’ll be thinking of those who made the ultimate sacrifices so that I could do something as simple as share a personal blog out into the ether freely. But I’ll also remember Nan and Gang and their ability to share happy stories of people and friendships when the world was at war.

Saving It For Best

A few weeks ago I went with my Mum and Dad to scatter my Nan’s ashes. It was a beautiful sunny day and although obviously very emotional for Mum, the short ceremony was very peaceful and serene. It wasn’t without comedy. Traffic in Boston is a nightmare and on this particular day it was even worse than usual. The funeral director, who was stuck in the traffic, called to apologise for being late and to ask how he’d recognise us. Dad replied ‘I’ll be the one wearing a white shirt and black tie’. I wasn’t sure how helpful that was going to be at a crematorium. 

Once the FD had screamed to a halt in his Micra, apologised and explained that they’d had a nightmare of a day. I wondered what that meant in the parameters of the funeral business. As a rule, I usually measure my good/bad days based on a barometer of ‘did anyone die’. I couldn’t work out what theirs would be. After the short service in the sunshine, and a few quiet tears from Mum, we did the obvious thing – back home for a cup of tea. 

Tea is a big thing in our family. It’s a ritual to mark any and every occasion. We never risk less than 10 bags left in the tea caddy. Ever! You never know when you’ll need to put the kettle on.

As Mum was defrosting 20 scones and buttering enough bread to make sandwiches for a visiting rugby team, I sat down and probably for the first time in a few years took stock of Nan’s living room. She was always extremely house proud so there was never anything out of place. I remember when I was little and they took delivery of display cabinet. With glass doors and shelves to show off the various bits of objet. This included some ‘posh’ cut crystal glasses, a variety of bone china cups and saucers and a few of those flamenco dolls she picked up from Spain decades ago (aka when I was a child).

Flamenco

There’s a trend now to tell people not to wait – to go for it, to eat the cake, to drink the wine, to wear the special dress, to live for the moment. I get it. But for Nan and her generation, I think it was really important to be able to have something which represented and focused on the ‘special’. Nan lived through WW2, rationing, going without, the black market, making ends meet. Her wedding dress was made of parachute material (not khaki green, thank god) and the food for the wedding reception was made up from everyone’s contributions from the ration books. She lived through this time, thrived and never really understood why, when people are now dying from having too much, she was able to make vol-au-vents for 80 guests with change left over from a fiver.

What she had in that display cabinet represented hard work, saving, having occasions to roll out the best china and glassware for. Saving the Esso vouchers for a set of 4 glass whiskey tumblers was a thing.

So, while I absolutely embrace the idea of not saving things ‘for best’, because you never know when your numbers up, I do understand that having something (or someone) to look forward to, having that reverence, has its place too.

The end of an era

 

Yesterday was the last day of nursery for my youngest.

I have been dropping off and collecting my children from the same nursery for last 8 ½ years and yesterday at 3pm was the last time I will make that journey.

I am emotional.

Having kids is a bit like being airdropped into The Hunger Games. When the time comes you realise you’re not prepared, nothing you encounter was covered in the trailer, you’re tired/delirious, everyone else seems to know what’s going on, you can’t change your mind, nothing makes sense and your vagina no longer resembles anything like it used to (as a friend recently put it: smashed lasagne).

Nursery was always on the cards. I had worked hard to build a career, I loved my job and I wanted to be able to have the best of all worlds – career, children, home, holidays etc. The whole 9 yards. 

Fast forward to month 4 of my 6-month maternity and we’re now realising that we should get our skates and look for a nursery. There were lots to choose from locally and we assumed that they would all be of a similar standard. They are not. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all OK, they all do the basics of supervising your children and keeping them fed and watered, but some are much better than others. I left one particular nursery and immediately burst into tears. The waves of guilt you experience as a working mother are endless and they begin early (ie before you even get back to the working bit). Then we found the right nursery and it all seemed to fall into place. We knew people whose children had been to that nursery and they all seemed to be normal, confident, happy, content children. Excellent. Along with a down payment of a few major organs and a direct debit instruction enough to make your eyes water child #1 was going to nursery at 6 months old and I would return to work. All would be back to normal. Right?

Firstly, let’s get physical. I had an emergency C-section which meant that I now had an overhang similar to a muffin top but made of bread dough. It was like trying to tuck the dough into massive pants and watching as the dough spread itself. Weird. 

Breasts – ah yes. My babylons, no longer the fun bags they once were, now performed their primary function. I was a walking, talking, lactating baby feeder. This meant that before dropping child off I would breastfeed, then by lunchtime (or thereabouts) I would need to ‘express’, otherwise by the time the marketing meeting kicked off at 2 pm, I would have the equivalent of two ready-to-explode milk-filled watermelons.

Nothing says ‘back to normal’ like sitting in a toilet cubicle with a breast pump attached trying to identify the people that come and go by only the sounds of their footsteps. Then, because you can hardly walk through your department with a fresh pint in one hand and the pump in the other, you pour the milk down the sink, wash the pump, readjust the MASSIVE nursing bra and reapply your lipstick, then leave the bathroom only to return 10 seconds later when you realise you’ve not had a wee. ‘How was your lunch break?’ is not a question you honestly answer for quite a few months. 

That’s just top-line physical stuff. For the first few months back I literally had bottles of Mountain Dew lined up on my desk and in my bag. Standard handbag items had been replaced with anti-bac hand lotion, wet wipes, Calpol, teething powders and nappy bags. 

Time and purpose take on new perspectives. Before I had kids I didn’t realise how much I took my job for granted. I worked hard, sure, but it’s fair to say that I probably wasted time too. Now, juggling work and home meant I didn’t want to waste time. I felt like when I came back to work I put myself into a higher gear. If I was going to be at work and have my baby at childcare then you bet your arse I’m going to make a difference. 

You can’t leave a job you love to have a baby that you love and expect everything to be the same again. It’s not. You’re not. The company you work for may not be the same and for a long time your colleagues are not really sure how to treat you. (Note to those colleagues: we know you’ve all had to do extra work, that you’ve stepped up, that it’s not necessarily been convenient, we’re sorry we didn’t leave everything of note in the handover and we’re sorry we left that knobhead for you to deal with. We also really want to hear about your drunken nights out, we don’t want to talk about our kids all the time and the reason we don’t talk when we have a cup of tea is that we relish the opportunity to drink a cup of it while it’s still hot.)

While we’re getting to grips with going back to work, we’re also struggling with the fact that strangers are looking after our babies. That they can’t be doing it right, that only you know what your baby needs, only you can… you get the idea. But thinking like this leads to madness. They are experts at what they do. Every single person we encountered over the 8 ½ years was filled with kindness and care.

It feels impossible that my youngest has now finished this stage of their life. For some reason, he seems less robust than my oldest, but he isn’t. He’s just different. 

The nursery has helped shape their early lives. It introduced them to new experiences, people and children. The staff have shown patience, kindness and expertise, always there to help with advice on sleeping (kids, not me), toilet training (ditto) and all the answers to the random questions that pop into your head at 4 in the morning. 

Above all else, I’ve learned that there’s no right way to parent. Nursery, home, co-parenting, grandparents: whatever the childcare looks like as long as there is real ‘childcare’ then it’s all good. The sooner we stop judging parents for how they do it the better. 

I have two happy and healthy kids who are so completely different in their personalities and styles that it’s impossible not to be grateful to everyone who has helped raise them in these early years. 

IMG_7518

Thank you to every single member of staff, over all of the years my kids spent at nursery x

 

Rocketman

Today both kids have been on one. It’s like they both received a WhatsApp message just before getting out of bed that said ‘today is not going to be about you’. In fact, today was about showing love and appreciation for their Dad. The one that bends (eventually) to their whims, the one that rolls his eyes but gives in at the end, the one that they both go to for sensible answers to burning questions, and who they go to get things fixed. The one that gives big bear Daddy cuddles.

No, today they were going to be shits. Between me and my husband, we’ve both whispered FFS more times than can be healthy and I’m sure that at least a couple of times today my husband has regretted pouring that third gin and tonic 8 odd years ago. We both love our kids, but boy did they push all the buttons today.

Having said all of that it’s been lovely seeing everyone’s posts on social with messages of love for their Dad’s or how much they miss them now that they’re gone. Family relationships are often complex. To me, there seemed to be lots of questions around what it is ‘to Dad’. I’m lucky that I have a good relationship with mine. It’s not been without its ups and downs over the years, but overall he’s one of the good guys. But that’s not necessarily the average. There are people I know who have no relationships with their fathers. It just never happened. Some chose to just get on with that, and others have been more wounded by it. There are those whose relationships have always been fractured and tense, they never bonded for whatever reason. There are friends who are so angered by actions taken by their father, that they choose not to forgive them.

Then there are those who have never become biological fathers, but who have established themselves as incredible father figures to others. There are those who have become fathers and are so overwhelmed with the task that they just leave to search for a simpler life.

Private lives are just that. People struggle and strive to make themselves happy, and others along the way. It doesn’t always end up looking like a scene from The Waltons (goodnight Jim Bob). So, to answer my question of what it means ‘to Dad?’ I think that, at the heart of it, it’s to feel love beyond what you thought you were capable of, to show patience far beyond what you felt you could ever muster before and to demonstrate your love sometimes by just fixing something, or maybe building a cardboard rocketship at 6:45am on a school day just because you were asked to by your 4-year-old son.

Happy Father’s Day x

Be-Ro Hero

Easter 2019.

This year we decided that we would take the Easter Sunday lunch over to Mum and Dad’s. Plans were drafted, and reams of cookery books and Google searches navigated us to the bosomy cleavage of Nigella Lawson and her herbed leg of lamb. The main course would be dealt with by T – a safe and sensible pair or hands, and I would deliver an appropriate pud. As the only thing I can confidently make is a pavlova, no searching was required.

Trying to cook in someone else’s kitchen is always a bit strange. Mum has a peculiar mash-up of aged utensils, mismatched saucepans and lids and spoons which look like Uri Geller has had a go on before sorting out Brexit. It makes me laugh but frustrating for T, especially when he thought he’d have to drain the sprouting broccoli through a tea-strainer.

Needing to whip up the gallon of double cream for the pavlova (I have the opposite of dairy intolerance) Mum delved into the cupboard and pulled out her trusty Kenwood food mixer. There it stood, nearly 40 years old and still in perfect working condition.  Will Smith could not have put it any better than in the classic tune which is Summertime:

And as I think back makes me wonder how
The smell from a grill* could spark up nostalgia

*Obviously, replace the word grill for Kenwood mixer.

IMG_4274.jpg

I was instantly transported back to times when I was baking with Mum in our kitchen, pivoting on a stool (me, not my Mum), and blitzing our way through the Be-Ro baking book. I have yet to find a better chocolate cake recipe and, believe me, I’ve tried. And if you’ve never had a butter tartlet…..  well, they will change your life for the better.

The best chats I had were with Mum in the kitchen, me making a mess and Mum cleaning it up. It didn’t really matter what we made. It was the late 70s early 80s, so mostly everything was fortified with some sort of chemical or stabiliser. Different times.

bero_old_recipe_book_3

I have my own Kenwood mixer. Same design but different colour. I wonder if S and E will ever remember baking together. It mostly involves making cupcakes and adding various food colourings. Once the mixing bit’s over and both kids have inserted their heads in the mixing bowl, and they’ve licked the beaters to a new shade of stainless steel, they tend to lose interest. I have been left to power hose the kitchen floor and wonder how long I should wait before I repaint the kitchen ceiling.

I often wonder what the kids will remember us by, but I can guarantee it won’t be anything ‘big’, but something mundane and normal. Mum’s beige dinners and Dad’s eye rolls probably.

I’ll keep hold of the Kenwood, just in case.

 

 

Packed to the rafters

Packing to go on holiday in your twenties/early thirties (from the haggard memories of a 45-year-old)

  • 7-day holiday = 7 different bikinis. 14 days = 14 combinations of bikinis and cossies
  • Factor 15 for first 30 mins of day 1. Baby oil/something faintly smelling of coconuts but attracts lots of flies for the rest of the holiday
  • Products – hair products, body products, nail products, makeup products and random product which raised a ‘yeah, I could go for that’ at the duty-free
  • Sarongs
  • Music and some sort of portable, play in the room, sound system
  • Sexual overcoats
  • Variations of looks for different evenings depending on what day you landed
  • Traveller’s cheques
  • Jackie Collins book
  • Magazines, loads and loads and loads of magazines

Packing to go on holiday as a mother of two children, aged 8 and 4.

  • Calpol
  • ‘Bum’ medicine
  • Antihistamine
  • Thousands of plasters
  • Factor 70 suncream
  • More Calpol
  • Scissors, tweezers, and ‘files’
  • Colouring books
  • Sticker books
  • Sweets – variety. The higher the sugar content, the higher the stakes (read: don’t shit yourself on the plane)
  • Tablets – of the digital kind
  • Antibacterial handwash in 30 x 10ml bottles, everywhere
  • Indigestion tablets
  • A good book that you’ll read the introduction and the inside back panel of
  • Mints
  • Inflatables
  • Cuddly toys
  • 10 thousand pairs of pants
  • Sudacream
  • More Calpol
  • Husband

IMG_1064 2

 

 

Too much of a good thing?

Oh man. Am I pleased to say toodle-oo to January? I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions. I never had any intention of embracing ‘Dry January’, but I did want to feel like I’d kicked 2019 (tbh why aren’t we travelling on hoverboards by now?) off in the right way.

We’d woken up on New Year’s Eve with fuzzy heads. Friends had thrown a house party, and although I could have sworn I’d only had a couple of cheeky Proseccos and maybe a smidge of G+T, my head told me otherwise. Along with it came an overwhelming sense of relief. We had (finally) got through 2018. It was far from a vintage year.

So, with two children hardwired into their tablets (thank you BBC for posting the news story about tablets having a marginal effect on children) for an hour, T and I decided to make a few guidelines for 2019. We were going to worry less. Waste less. Drink less. Exercise more. Work smarter. Be present. Give less of a you-know-what.
Along with these rules (not resolutions!) to live by we were also going to expand our minds a bit. T had already kicked off an Open University Degree in Engineering (nothing like starting slow), and I had a passion project I wanted to develop. It felt great to feel ready to charge into 2019.

In a fever of activity, I’d managed to sign up to so many positive thinking/mindful/retrain your brain type newsletters, blogs and Youtube channels that my inbox heaving. All other newsletters which I’d promised myself I’d unsubscribe from during the Christmas holidays were now bolstered with additional emails including such subject header such as ‘How not to **** yourself up or your children – a step-by-step guide’ and ‘9 Reasons you’re not the person you want to be’ etc.

My new recommended routine was:
No phone for the first hour of the day.
Make a mindful cup of tea – hot water and lemon.
15 mins of meditation.
10 mins writing in my gratuity diary.
10 mins of visualisation.
A light, organic vegan breakfast
Drink twice my body weight in filtered water. Every. Single. Day.
Exercise.
Purposeful time blocking my day for maximum efficiency and minimum distractions.

My actual routine looks like this:
Radio alarm goes off at 6:15
Ignore the alarm and any small arms or feet implanted in our heads/back/ shoulders from a little boy who snuck into our bed again!
Alarm number 2 goes off at 6:30 – ignored and refuted.
Kicked out of bed by a three-year-old at 6:45. How do I know what time it is? Because I look at my phone straight away.

Breakfast time is so far away from a Zen experience it might as well be on the Planet Zen, in the Zenith cosmos, next door to the Zenoffyourself solar system. It’s survival of the fittest. The winner gets to eat a bowl of Coco Pops (and for those people who say my child will never eat Coco Pops, let me know how that works out for you) with or without milk, listening to the radio for 5 mins before I cave in and agree that they can watch TV.
Attempt to drink a lukewarm cup of tea with the bag still in it wondering if now is the time I should be mindful.

By now, child #1 has eaten and I’m drying the milk from her hair which she’s dangled in the bowl. Child number #2 has taken all his clothes off and shouting ‘look at my bum’ while running up and down the hall at breakneck speed. Husband and I will argue about who takes which child where (it will mean putting a bra on for one of us), and I’m already listening as my email, WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger and text messages make more sounds than Bletchley Park in WW2. I could have sworn I turned off the notifications and possibly even deleted the Apps only to remember that I reinstalled them at 3 am while trying to get E back to sleep.

By the time everyone is where they should be my brain is fried, my email is heaving and the only thing which is present and purposeful is my need to take the Coco Pops from my hair, put yet another bloody load of washing in and try to find clothes that don’t look like I’ve slept in them.

January was all of this and more. The result? I’ve knocked loads of podcasts, videos, newsletters and social media feeds on the head. I’ve taken full advantage of cut-price booze, and my visualisation mainly revolves around looking at holidays we can’t afford with my body looking like that of a nubile twenty-year-old. In other words fantasy.

Mindfulness, visualisation, purposefulness – they all have their place. But maybe not all in Jan and not all at the same time. I am casually walking into Feb a more balanced and perhaps more realistic person, trying to do her best. One App at a time.

 

IMG_2789