Thursday 31 July 2008

Mind the gap

A friend, who has one child, asked me the other day what I thought was the ideal gap between children.

Is there such a things as an ideal gap? I don’t know. The Littleboys are 19 months apart - a similar spacing to the children of at least five other couples I know well. With most of us, I suspect that child 2 was conceived a little bit quicker than expected. (Why? I have a couple of theories. First, as the first child approaches one year old and life becomes a little easier, sex life suddenly resumes and you’re so relieved to be getting some action that attention to contraception flies out of the window. Or, it could that people start ‘trying’ at this point with a 2 year gap in mind, and for some reason are much more fertile than they think…)

There are a few benefits to this age gap. The Littleboys are close enough in age that they can enjoy the same things without the older one sneering and finding them too babyish –so splashing in the bath is still hilariously funny, and they can both sit, transfixed, watching Pingu while drinking their bedtime milk. And although we still have two in nappies (Littleboy 1’s neverending toilet training saga will probably end just as his brother starts) dressing them is a bit like a production line – pop them on the mat, on goes the nappy, Sudocrem and clothes and, voila, they’re ready to go.

Clothing, incidentally, is also not a problem – rather than having to pack away outgrown clothes for several years, it’s only a few months until the younger one fits them. You can virtually transfer things from one chest of drawers to another.

But would I recommend this age gap? There are, shall we say, challenges. At the moment, aged 3 and 1, they are both essentially still toddlers – albeit one slightly bigger and less likely to fall over. And like all toddlers, they have monstrous egos, little sense of danger, no sense of fair play and a massive capacity for destruction.

Sharing is anathema to both of them. Everything is MINE. They both want to go first – whether it’s getting out of the car or bath, or getting a cuddle from Mummy. They both subject you a series of physical assaults (eg.flip flops, in the face, at 6am) and relentless demands (more milk Mummy, the bath’s too cold, I want to read the Gruffalo NOW). It's a bit like being Naomi Campbell’s PA.

Food throwing is a competitive sport; cleaning up after each meal resembles a rescue operation after a major disaster. Competitive toy throwing is also popular – so our once-smart wooden floor is dented from the repeated batterings with Megabloks and matchbox cars.

In the playground, they both go off in different directions; and while Littleboy 2 is the more vulnerable, and the one to be followed at all costs, his brother is also liable to get stuck at the top of the climbing frame or lose sight of me and start screaming. And at the supermarket, they are both still small enough to sit in the trolley, whereupon they scrap like a couple of puppies.

I hope one day that the Littleboys will be the best of friends, and thank me for bringing them into the world so close in age. But for now it’s a case of damage limitation. As another friend put it to me the other day, one baby is a pet; two is a zoo.

Sunday 27 July 2008

School's out

Littleboy 1 is only just 3, but already we are supposed to be getting into a tizz about schools.

The trials and tribulations of schooling in Nappy Valley have been well-documented; not least by the brilliant, local writer John O’Farrell in his excellent book May Contain Nuts (which has apparently been filmed as an ITV drama series to be shown later this year).

While this is not, I realise, a problem unique to this area, there do seem to be a few issues. Clapham has the highest birth rate in Europe – but contrary to popular belief, that’s not just down to the proliferation of yummy mummies; it also has high numbers of single mothers and low income families. As a consequence, it seems the ‘good’ primary schools are hopelessly over-subscribed. Meanwhile, the private options either require you to put their names down as soon as you conceive, or demand that your four year old child pass some terrifying entrance interview. Terrible tales abound, and around the age of 2 everyone starts panicking and putting their kids’ names down for hundreds of different schools – exacerbating the problem.

Take a sample of my local friends (none of whom are Nuts by the way, but on the contrary very intelligent women, not at all snobbish, and nice to boot). One is so worried about her daughter not getting into a good state school that she has started attending church every week, so as to pass through the pearly gates of a sought-after C of E school. So guilt-ridden was she by this whole scenario, my friend confessed, that she and her partner had to visit the pub and ‘down several pints’ following their first Sunday service.

Another is fretting that she lives just that little bit too far away from the ‘good’ state schools, but is worrying about whether her child will get into the highly competitive private school round the corner. And a third has a series of cunning schemes up her sleeve, involving putting names down for one school, then whipping the children out as soon as someone moves house and a place becomes available elsewhere.

So what, you might ask, have I done? To the disbelief of most local mummies, nothing. As a vaguely leftish hack, ever-optimistic about our Labour government, I was hoping that an excellent local state school would materialise by the time Littleboy 1 reached 5. And if it hadn’t, I reasoned, we would probably have moved by now anyway. I therefore have a scant knowledge of the local state and private schools, whereas my contemporaries could probably pass a GCSE in the subject.

Well, we haven’t managed to move house, but luckily for me a superb escape route has presented itself – leave the country. Yes, The Doctor has been offered the opportunity to work in the US, starting in a year’s time, just at the point that Littleboy 1 would be starting school. So now when everyone excitedly asks me what are we Doing About Schools, I can opt out of the conversation - and not have to confess that I am a Rubbish Mother Who Has Done Nothing.

Friday 25 July 2008


How exciting. The lovely Tara from From Dawn Till Rusk has given me a blogging award – my first ever. Well, I like her site too – not only an interesting parenting blog, but she does celebrity gossip – what more could a girl want?

It seems I must now award five others, but it’s been a long and tiring week, so I’m going to cheat a bit and include three blogs - Man and Boy, Little Red Boat and International Escapee Mummy - which I already talked about here, plus Nunhead mum of one who is not only a fellow South Londoner but has a nice wry sense of humour and Dulwich Mum, who also lives nearby, in an area similar to Nappy Valley but far posher, and who I was horrified by when first reading but then got the joke....

This what they have to do.

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Nominate five other blogs
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominee on their blogs.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Password hell

The Doctor had the day off yesterday, and decided to do deal with all the ‘admin’ - ie random pieces of paper - that floats around our house, piling up on every available surface, and never getting dealt with. (Whenever I go to other people’s houses and their surfaces are sparklingly empty, I always wonder where the hell they keep it).

In particular, he wanted to set up some new system that somehow encrypts all the internet passwords we ever need to use, so no-one villainous can ever get hold of them and steal our identities.

Now I am rubbish at passwords and pin numbers. I invent them quickly because I want to get on with whatever I am doing – like booking a train ticket, checking my bank balance - and then I instantly forget them. I used to write them in my diary, but The Doctor was always warning me not to write them down, so I stopped.

It doesn’t help that now there are so many passwords and logins. In the good old days, you only had to remember a couple of bank card pin numbers. But now, you can’t order your shopping online without some horror dialogue box popping up and asking you for 1st, 15th and 77th letter of your password (is it just me, or is that really hard to work out?). And you can’t ring up and speak to someone about your mobile phone without them demanding your mother’s aunt’s maiden name or the birthday of your first pet.

So when The Doctor turns to me and says – “so what’s your online password for the XXX account, the one that we set up a couple of weeks ago” my mind races. Oh lord. What possible combination of letters, numbers, names, birthdays, anniversaries and just random words can I have used?

I used to pride myself on my ultra-sharp memory – I was the one that always remembered what year a particular event took place, or the names of other people’s children – but somehow my brain cannot compute this kind of information any more. That side of my memory (if it ever existed – I think it probably ranks with remembering how to set the video) has been pushed aside by all the rubbish that I need to remember these days. Like packing the Littleboys’ nursery bags with fresh trousers each night, not leaving my mobile in the car/losing the pram and buying more baby wipes/hummus/petit filous. They say motherhood makes you great at multi-tasking and that’s true – but somehow, important stuff like how to access your life savings goes down the plughole.

I had to admit, shamefaced, that I have no idea for the life of me what the password was. And we have to start from scratch, registering on the web site all over again. So we descend, once again, into password hell.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Cabin fever

We have had such a great week in Norway that it’s hard to know where to start. I could talk about the cabin we stayed in with our friends, The Vets and their Littlegirls, way up in the mountains, with a gurgling mountain stream as the water supply. The magnificent forest, lakes, waterfalls and rivers that surrounded us. The fact that it didn’t get really dark, even at 1am. The stunning lake cruise. Or the thrill of jumping into ice cold meltwater after a walk.

There would be too much to say, however, so I decided to do it by statistics. A bit like Schott’s Miscellany, but definitely more inaccurate…well, maths never was my strong point.

So, here goes:

Weather – 9/10 (despite unpromising arrival temperature of 10 degrees)

Location of cabin – 10/10

Taps in cabin: 0

Streams outside cabin: 1

Flushing loos: 0

Family stripwashes: 2

Lake swims: 2

Fjord paddles: 1

Small, overexcited blond children in cabin: 4

Dogs in cabin: 1

Frantic grownups in cabin: 4

Hours of real darkness: 0

Impressive hikes undertaken by Littleboy 1: 4

Impressive 15 minute walks to cabin undertaken by Littleboy 2: 1

Plates of waffles consumed per day (average): 1

Attempts by The Doctor to eat brown Norwegian cheese: 1

Numbers of kids’ insect repellents bought that then realised weren’t allowed on plane because flammable: 3

Numbers of mosquito bites on Littleboys: 0

Numbers of mosquito bites on me: about 10 zillion

Accidents suffered by Littleboys: 4 (2 each).

Accidents suffered by Littleboys requiring first aid kits to be produced: 2 (1 each)

Debates on whether Littleboy 2 needed stitches: 1

Amount of clothes for the Littleboys needed compared to those packed: about half.

Wrong kind of child car seats provided by crap rental firm: 2

Rows in airport carpark due to said carseats: 1

Minutes Littleboy 2 wasn’t screaming on 2 and half hour return plane journey: 15

Seeing The Vets, and their Littlegirls, again after far too long (with apologies to Mastercard ad): priceless

Monday 14 July 2008


Before I write about Norway, there’s something I must do – a week or so ago, the lovely Frog in the Field tagged me to write about 5 blogs that I like. As I’m still a bit of a novice blogger, this is a little rough and ready, but if you’ll forgive that here are some that I’ve liked so far:

The first is petite anglaise: to begin with, I had never read her blog, but my father gave me her book as a birthday present, and, rather against my expectations, I was riveted. She writes so honestly, funnily and grippingly about her life, from the big emotional moments to the smallest day to day details. So now I must log in and find out the latest about petite and her sexy Parisian life.

In her book, petite mentioned quite frequently ‘Anna from Little Red Boat’. I hadn’t realised until recently that this was the same Anna P who did a brilliant live blog on The Apprentice on the MediaGuardian website. She is hilarious, and well worth a read: here’s a recent one.

The next two are by friends, but if you can’t have a bit of cronyism in the blogging world, where can you? Man and boy: well worth a read, as my friend has a great story to tell, all about looking after a teenage son on his own. Marianne’s travel blog is also by my good friend, International Escapee Mummy: full of funny insights into life as an Englishwoman in the US of A and her forthcoming sojourn to Dubai.

Finally, I have recently discovered Rilly Super, and everything about her blog, Strife in the North– from the pictures to the profile - makes me giggle quite a lot.

Friday 4 July 2008

Fish tale

The Doctor was not best pleased the other day when he arrived home from work to find that, having promised to buy something for supper, I had ended up with two whole sea bass. Not scaled, not gutted, not filleted, just, you know, with the eyes, fins and everything still there.

I helpfully provided him with a Rick Stein recipe book I mysteriously seem to own (where did I get it - and when?) that tells you how to prepare fish. He spent the next 15 minutes elbow deep in a washing-up bowl full of scales, blood and guts, armed with a lethally sharp Global knife. Which is probably not what he expected after a tough day at the hospital– while he’s not actually a surgeon, I’m sure he sees enough gore to be going on with during his daily travails.

So why the fishy blunder? It all resulted from shopping with the Littleboys on the Northcote Road. For those readers who are not local, this road, perhaps the spiritual heart of Nappy Valley, is a mecca for upmarket boutiques aimed at the pregnant, child-wielding or just plain Desperate Housewifey (latest shop opening up there is a branch of Cath Kidston). Consequently, money simply flows from your purse – whether it’s the expensive groceries, upmarket kids’ clothes or the extortionate birthday cards that does it – and the whole experience feels vaguely unreal.

We had to shop for various presents, a sunhat and wellies for Littleboy 2 (yes, I know that seems a strange combo in midsummer, but they are for Norway) and various other items. So by the time we reached the posh fish restaurant that doubles as a fishmonger, my wallet was a lot lighter and the Littleboys were bored. Littleboy 1 decided he would quite like to swing like a monkey on the metal bead curtain in the doorway of the shop, grab the lemons and potatoes on display and throw them around, and beat up his brother at the same time.

So I wasn’t concentrating at all on what I was doing. I’m sure I asked for fillets to begin with, but by the time the clueless guy running the counter had established that no, they didn’t have the lemon sole they were actually advertising outside, and yes, there was mackerel but only for the restaurant…. Well, I was fairly Desperate myself. And, aside from nearly fainting at the price of the sea bass, I didn’t actually notice what he did with them (ie nothing) or look at what was in the bag till we reached home.

Anyway, The Doctor now knows how to prepare a sea bass. So on balance I reckon I have equipped him with another useful life skill. And yes, they were worth it - absolutely delicious.

My next udpate will be post-Norway, so watch this space for how to gut and pickle a herring….

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Map happy

Are we the only family left in England without a sat-nav? This week the Littleboys and I drove to see my friend, International Escapee Mummy, who naughtily married an American and left the country, but is presently ensconced in darkest Surrey en route from Minnesota to Dubai (read all about it on her brilliant blog here).

Both International Escapee Mummy and her mum were impressed that I had managed to arrive without help from such a device, particularly as I had come from a different direction from usual, and had to negotiate the wilds of central Woking on my way.

Turns out that even International Escapee Mummy’s husband, who is a jumbo jet pilot, is a fully paid up fan of the sat-nav, and they even have one with the voice of Eddie Izzard. I also read in the paper this weekend that you can now get one featuring Kit, the car from Knight Rider (oh, those long ago days when David Hasselhoff was cool….) and that the most popular one in the UK features the voice of John Cleese as Basil Fawlty.

Clearly we are not up to speed with the world of the sat-nav, but to tell the truth, it hadn’t really occurred to me that we should get one. Driving my offspring around London, I’m so accustomed to simultaneously having to read an A –Z, drive the car, and placate the Littleboys because they have dropped their tractor/football/beaker on the floor in the back of the car – surely it’s all part of the multi-tasking challenge that is motherhood? Littleboy 1 helpfully also likes to provide directions – he knows the route from Nursery so well that if I take a detour he yells out “NOT THAT WAY”.

What’s more, The Doctor is resolutely against any form of computerised directions.
Instead, he has a vast collection of Ordnance Survey maps, one for every area of the country we have ever set foot in, plus an array of foreign Atlases. We are about to set off on holiday to Norway, so he has already excitedly lined up his trip to Stanfords in Covent Garden this week. (The rudimentary road maps that come with hire cars are never quite good enough; they don't show those exciting little minor roads that look like such a good short cut but cunningly peter out into a rutted track at some point.) And, if we had a sat-nav, we would have missed out on so many adventures – like the confusing turn-off at Genoa that led us straight to the ferry port instead of the motorway.

GPS? Pah. Who needs it….