Wednesday 25 June 2008

Browned off

A common sight during summer in Nappy Valley is the Heath Robinson attempts by women wielding expensive buggies to shield their babies from the sun. On a hot day, the local mummies can be found desperately trying to veil their offspring from the rays under various shawls, muslins, tea-towels, umbrellas and random pieces of netting clipped to their prams.

Now, you would have thought that makers of designer prams et would have invented a workable sunshade option by now (especially since most of their customers must live in warmer climes than here). But, judging by this summer’s pram customisations, clearly they haven’t (for if it does exist, surely the locals here would have bought it?). Cheaper pushchairs, in contrast, seem to come with perfectly acceptable-looking covers.

Three years ago, when I was a new mother, the solution of choice for Bugaboo owners was to affix a muslin cloth across the hood with clothes pegs, thus protecting the baby’s face but handily ruining the stylish aspect of the buggy. The UV ‘parasol’ that you could buy as an accessory was fine if the sun was in a particular corner of the sky and you were walking in a particular direction at the time– but was otherwise utterly useless.

Today, the favoured option seems to be to drape the pram with a silk scarf (or perhaps last season’s pashmina?) thus enabling you to show off your fashion sense as well as your concern for the child’s skin.

While this works OK for newborns, who don’t particularly care about the view, it must be deeply frustrating for older babies. And toddlers like the Littleboys, of course, have no such truck with being shielded from the outside world. Their attitude to sunhats is also unsatisfactory; they either constantly remove them (Littleboy 2) or wear them obsessively whenever they don’t need them - in the house, in the bath, in bed - but not when you want them to (Littleboy 1) .

Short of buying them Victorian-style baby bonnets with strings (an option I have considered), the only thing to be done is to slather them in Factor 50 and hope for the best. But at least we are all avoiding the worst possible faux pas; one that says more about your social status these days than pierced ears or a mullet – a suntanned baby.

Friday 20 June 2008

Minor injury

A trip to the Minor Injuries Unit at Guy’s Hospital this week, after whacking my little toe hard on Littleboy 2’s highchair. Although The Doctor insisted that I was highly unlikely to have broken it, two weeks later (and possibly spurred on by an episode of House, in which an undiagnosed broken toe led to a collapsed lung and all sorts of life-threatening conditions) it still hurt like crazy, so I thought maybe I should get it X-Rayed.

But it turns out they don’t X-Ray little toes, and even if it was broken there is apparently nothing they can do about it. All I can do is rest it (yeah, right) and wear sensible shoes (not a problem). So The Doctor can be once again be smug that his diagnosis - that there is no point doing anything – was correct (This is the diagnosis he gives me 99% of the time, about any family medical query).

Still, got to see a slice of local Southwark life in the waiting room. Four very dishevelled middle-aged Eastern European men came in, at least two of whom appeared to be drunk, and all stinking to high heaven. One had injured his eye, but couldn’t remember how, and his ‘flatmate’, who translated for him, could only reveal that he had ‘turned up looking like that 2 days ago’. Another man had some unspecified injury, and the fourth –who appeared unharmed – was striding around the waiting room, aggressively fulminating in some Slavic language, prompting old ladies to cower and the receptionist to call Security.

Just as I was wondering if I really wanted to spend my lunchtime sitting next to these undesirables and their drink-related injuries, it occurred to me that my own injury could also be classed as drink-related; the toe/highchair incident had in fact taken place at 10pm after a couple of glasses of fairly strong Shiraz, as I was exhaustedly unloading the dishwasher in the kitchen.

So, I am clearly the worst example of the middle-class thirtysomething drinking epidemic that we are now being warned about by the government - no better than the likes of Amy Winehouse injuring herself after some drug-fuelled party.

No doubt there should be a Home Office campaign to warn us: don’t drink and do housework, perhaps?

Sunday 15 June 2008

Market forces

The Doctor has been away for 5 whole days, speaking at a conference in Europe whose acronym is ERIC (which I find quite amusing for some reason.) During his absence, the Littleboys have managed to break the television (by doing something unspeakable to the aerial cord); Littleboy 2 has had an accident with a cheese grater (don’t ask) which has left cheese-grater scrapings all down his soft little forehead; and Littleboy 1 has almost run into the road about 22 times (really, don’t ask). So I’m almost at the end of my tether.

Got some strange and critical stares, therefore, this morning at the local Farmers Market, as I literally screeched at Littleboy 1: “Come back here; NOW!” sounding more like a fishwife than a calm, well-groomed Nappy Valley mother enjoying a blissful Sunday with her children. Most of the other small kids are there with their Dads, who clearly have the job of looking after them on Sundays while Mummy gets a well-deserved rest, reads the paper or hotfoots it to the gym/beauty salon. No-one else is running around like a maniac, chasing one child while hoping no-one nicks her handbag or the other child, both of which have been abandoned next to the organic carrots. As Littleboy 1 downs the Chegworth Valley apple juice samples as if they were shots, and charges off on his scooter as I’m trying to purchase overpriced soft fruit, I am starting to wonder if it's all worthwhile - yes, I am introducing my children to the joys of seasonal, local produce, but along with no shopping trolleys to stick them in, and plenty of tempting items for them to grab, I seem to have spent a small fortune. I think a trip to LIDL might have been preferable....

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Tate Crime

Last week the Littleboys and I ventured out of Nappy Valley (always a major expedition with the double buggy, which doesn’t do Tubes), a few miles north to the Tate Modern.

We were meeting Fellow Mummy with Little Boys, who lives in North London and who, many years ago, I used to work with. Back then, we bonded over sneaking out for coffee three times a day to moan about our boss, in the guise of having important work discussions (well, it was the kind of place where the salary cheques regularly bounced). Now, we bond over toilet training, fussy eating and the trials of trying to write features from home while looking after manic small men. So life develops.

There are many things about Tate Modern that are fantastic for kids, not least the vast and echoey Turbine Hall, which allows them to indulge in their favourite activity of running about screaming, and the view from the top floor café, which affords them many of their favourite objects– boats, trains and cars – in one go.

There are also some kid-friendly areas in the museum, with objects for them touch and poke and play with. But, as all parents know, children are always most excited by the things that are not designed specifically for them. Walking around the main Tate Collection galleries, the Littleboys loved, in this order:

1) The echo in the airy, cavernous rooms (they both walked around screaming ‘DAH’ in delight and listening to it reverberate off the walls)

2) The exhibits. Which they are, of course, not allowed to touch and desperately want to. Especially the really enticing sculptures, such as the one that looks like a giant Easter egg. Cue lots of frantic chasing by me as they tried in vain to cross the barriers.

3) The video installations. ‘Beebies’ cried Littleboy 1, when we found a darkened room with bank of screens displaying some weird footage of young girls performing telekinesis (he meant CBeebies, so far the only TV channel he knows exists). We watched it loop around for a few minutes, and as we got up to leave, he pronounced loudly: “Mummy, I LIKE that,” to the general amusement of the rest of the audience (who appeared to be totally bemused by it).

Unfortunately, not everyone in the main galleries loved us. Once Fellow Mummy with Little Boys had joined us, there were four over-excited tots running, shouting and shrieking their way through the Tate. I don’t know what he collective noun for small boys is (suggestions welcome) but we were it - and therefore a big, glaring target for child-haters.

“Get those kids out of here, I came here for a bit of peace and quiet,” stormed one middle-aged woman, prompting Fellow Mummy with Little Boys to give her a piece of her mind. Things then escalated; Stroppy Woman stomped over to a telephone and threatened to call the supervisor and get us thrown out. No-one actually did come to forcibly remove us, although we noticed several attendants lingering nearby. But there were other kids there (OK, mainly well-behaved, quiet little girls but hey, you can't choose the gender) and surely you can’t kick children out of an art gallery for making a noise? As Fellow Friend with Little Boys points out, galleries are for everyone, unless you are Jean Paul Getty and have your own private collection...

And, frankly, in my view, most of the ‘art’ in Tate Modern is so utterly ridiculous that running around it shouting ‘DAH’ is surely the most appropriate response?

Saturday 7 June 2008

Creche and burn

The grass is long on the Common; the smell of suncream and icecream pervades the local playgrounds. The Yummy Mummies are displaying their pedicures in pretty sandals, and the rest of us have unearthed our flipflops. It must be summer.

Across Nappy Valley, families are busy discussing their holidays. Local cafes are abuzz with the same questions: which Mark Warner has the best childcare; which part of Cornwall is in vogue, and, should the summer be a washout like last year, which Centreparcs is easiest to drive to?

Nearly everyone I know round here has been to either Mark Warner or Centreparcs (it must get very dull for the local hairdressers). All of these people are insistent that, much as they were loathed to follow the crowd, it was actually ‘marvellous’ – tonnes for the kids to do, fantastic facilities and, most importantly, the opportunity for the children to be looked after by someone else.

Except for us. We have never done either. Nor do we frequent Cornish beaches or spend long weekends in country house hotels with crèches – other staples of Nappy Valley vacationing.

Instead, I think we are viewed as somewhat eccentric. Usually opting for a self-catering place somewhere in Europe, we then, to the incredulity of most other people with small children, embark on an epic drive down the French motorways with a car stuffed full of travel cots, buggies and other baby paraphernalia. (Luckily, one thing that can be said for the Littleboys is that they are little angels in the car).

Once there, we’ll usually combine lazing round the pool with a lot of furious driving about: involving not just sightseeing, but lengthy expeditions to all the local hypermarkets – well, you’ve got to suss out which one’s the best before you go home again - plus nail-biting, hairpin-bend drives in national parks that make the Littleboys throw up, or forays to find a particular blend of olive oil or a place we think we once stayed at in 1983. The Doctor cooks elaborate meals with the local produce, and, exhausted, we both drink too much wine once the Littleboys are in bed.

The Doctor in particular is scathing of resort-style holidays. Why would we want to go somewhere stuffed full of other middle class couples - basically, Nappy Valley on the Med? Middle-class Butlins, with bland, international food and no opportunity to go out and see anything – that’s his verdict (having spent his formative years on French campsites).

I have a slightly different view, having been raised in the Far East and holidayed at some five star, inclusive-type resorts as a child. I love our holidays, and I feel guilty about dragging the Littleboys half away across Europe only to dump them at a creche. And yes, what is the point of going to another country to find the same old crowd but with better weather?

But at the same time I do secretly hanker after a game of tennis, a massage and a break from endless childcare, (ie, every day spent longing for that couple of hours after lunch when they are asleep and I can read my novel.)

So I venture to suggest that this year, we might try a Mark Warner. Just for a week. A look of horror comes across the Doctor’s face. And then, to my utter surprise, he says ‘maybe’. (Well, permits me to look at the website, anyway).

But can I really bring myself to do it? And if we allow ourselves to go on one of these holidays, will there be no going back?