Friday 28 November 2008

Reality check

Being married to The Doctor, who has no idea who any celebrity is (I often wonder if he would recognise Madonna if she danced past him in Waitrose singing 'Like a Virgin'), I sometimes feel like a bit of an airhead for having a fairly good working knowledge of trashy celebrity culture. OK, so I know who Jordan and Peter are, know all the who said what to whoms of the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston saga, and read articles in magazines about Gywneth Paltrow's collection of high heels. I may have an English degree, and have read Little Dorrit, but my head is full of trivia, which makes me good at pub quizzes but is otherwise pretty useless.

I also have a guilty liking for two reality TV shows; The Apprentice, which is my absolute favourite, and I'm a Celebrity, get me out of here, which is currently brightening up the cold November evenings. This is odd, because in general I don't like them; I avoided Big Brother after the first series, ditto X Factor and couldn't give a stuff about John Seargant on Stricly Come Dancing.

But the other day, at the hairdressers, I realised that my celebrity knowledge is not as encyclopaedic as I thought.....

It was 4pm and there were no other customers, just me, my hairdresser, the receptionist and another stylist from the salon. We got onto the subject of local celebrities, by way of discussing Gordon Ramsay and his alleged affair which has been all over the tabloids this week. ( "ooh, how could he. Those beautiful children..."etc etc)

I reeled off a few of my local celebrity sightings, which consist of Vivienne Westwood at my yoga class and Neil Pearson, ex Drop the Dead Donkey, at the gym. We shared a bit of local urban legend, such as Mark Owen from Take That living off the Northcote Road (he looks REALLY SCRUFFY, said the hairdressers disapprovingly). I thought that was pretty good. But no. They then launched into a whole stream of 'celeb spots' , consisting of people I had never even heard of, let alone would recognise.

"We had her, from Celebrity Come Dine with me, in here to do her highlights. You know the one." (I didn't)
"I saw Chico from X Factor on Lewisham station," (cue gales of laughter from the others - whether because it was a celebrity in Lewisham I don't know...)
"Y'know Brian from Big Brother, he lives right above the post office round here."
And (my favourite) "I saw Jerry from last year's Big Brother in Tesco's. Just, like, sitting there. Sitting there!"
At this point I had to opt out of the conversation. Oh dear. I clearly haven't kept up. It is a slippery slope and sooner or later I will turn into the kind of fogey who asks who the Beatles are.......

*The lovely Bush Mummy has awarded me a 'superior scribbler' award, so thank you very much. I will pass it on, but just not now because I have builders in my house and should not really be blogging at all......

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Carnival of the mummies

There is a carnival of British mummy bloggers over at the lovely Potty Mummy's site. I'm proud to be included in this erudite bunch, which includes some of my favourite bloggers - really talented writers, and far better than most of what you can read on parenthood in print.

So, if you have a spare moment today, get yourself down there, put some steel band music on and take a look:

Sunday 23 November 2008

Sink or swim

Signing Littleboy 1 up for swimming lessons recently, I believed I had found the perfect solution to the darkening winter afternoons, when going out to the playground is no longer an option and restless Littleboys maraud around my house hell-bent on destruction. Little did I know that this would turn out to be my most fraught half hour of the week.

The problem is not so much Littleboy 1 - who loves swimming - but his brother, who has to come with us - or, rather, the combination of the two.

Timing our arrival at the changing room is the first hurdle. Get there too early, say more than 10 minutes before the lesson starts, and the Littleboys get bored and start disrupting the previous lesson. But get there too late, and there will be no changing room in which to store our stuff.

The first week, I totally misjudged changing room etiquette. We got there early and changed, but it seemed selfish to leave our bags in the changing rooms, knowing that during the lesson the next lot of people would be turning up. I therefore removed all our stuff and took it with us to the poolside. When the lesson was finished, we arrived back at the changing rooms to find that all our fellow pupils – who had arrived later than us - had taken them over with piles of stuff and I ended up changing two wriggling, shivering children in the corridor, with our people tripping over our bags on the way in and out. Now, my strategy is to get there early enough to nab a booth, and leave our bags piled neatly in the corner so as to stake our claim without preventing anyone else from using it after us.

Although Littleboy 2 is not having a lesson, I have realised that to all intents and purposes, he needs to change into a swimsuit too – otherwise, as I discovered the first week, his clothes end up soaked and stinking of chlorine from the wet poolside.

Once by the pool, he refuses any form of entertainment that I might provide during the half hour lesson– I’ve tried numerous books and toys. Instead, he prefers to grab whatever he can find on the side of the pool and chuck it into the water. This can range from the semi-legitimate – little plastic toys provided by the swim school – to the not so legitimate (the swimming floats and teacher’s towel).

I spend the entire half hour chasing him up and down the poolside, trying to ensure that he avoids either falling in the pool or majorly pissing off the instructors by distracting both his brother and the other pupils. Not like the other Nappy Valley mummies, of which there seem to be two types. One type sits there serenely reading Grazia and not taking any notice of their offspring in the pool. (On reflection, I think some of these are nannies). The other kind act as if their kids are Mark Phelps competing for Olympic Gold – roaring “Well done, Harry” every time the child so much as splashes. Only one other person brings a small sibling, and they are incredibly well-behaved. Nevertheless, I try to give Littleboy 1 as much encouragement as I can muster, given that half the time I am hauling his brother away from the edge.

Once the lesson’s over, it’s back to the crowded changing room to dress, a point at which, for some reason, the Littleboys become incredibly manic – running off around the room half dressed, shouting loudly and bumping into other people’s mummies while soaking wet. It's like trying to control a pair of small, wet, wriggly, overexcited seal pups. Most of the fellow pupils in contrast are good little girls (whose mummies, I can tell, are looking at me in horror and thinking ‘thank God I don’t have boys’).

By the time we reach the car again, I am haggard, exhausted, red-faced from the overheated poolside, stinking of chlorine and usually screeching at my children. I know that only real answer to my woes would be to leave Littleboy 2 behind – and indeed, I have a kind friend who has offered to take him when she can, but I can’t impose on her every week. Or alternatively, start taking Valium.....

Friday 14 November 2008

Rich kid, poor kid

I realise most people will not have seen it, but I feel rather compelled to post about the documentary Rich Kid, Poor Kid, that was shown on Channel 4 last week. It was set in Clapham North/Stockwell - ie on our doorstep - so I was interested to watch something that contrasted the South London lives of two teenage girls; Alice, a private schoolgirl living in a large house, and Natalie, who had left school at 15 and lived in a two bedroom council flat with a mum on benefits and her little brother.

It made such an impression, because Alice really was the worst advert for a private education I have ever seen. She talked about state school kids as if they were the scum of the earth, bitched about 'chavs' and said the worst thing she could think of in the world would be to send her own kids to a state school. Yet -until she met Natalie in the programme - she had never met any. Instead she boasted about her friends being in the Sunday Times Rich List. Natalie, meanwhile, was great - feisty, fiercely defensive of her mum (who suffered from mental health problems) and the great champion of her little brother, whom the family had somehow failed to register for primary school. When she visited the rich house, she was most overawed by the fact that they had a piano. She was by far the more-open minded of the two.

To be fair, when the two girls met, they got on quite well, and by the end, Alice was saying that perhaps she regretted some of the comments she'd made. And yes, they clearly did spring from ignorance and to some extent, fear (she had been mugged several times).

But by the end of the programme, it was the 'posh' parents I couldn't believe. Alice was only 15. First of all, why on earth did they let her be filmed in this way, spouting prejudice and ignorance - were they unaware that it was likely to be edited unfavourably (as these things always are) and that it would expose not only their daughter's attitude but their own? Her comments will surely haunt her for years and they should at the very least have demanded some editorial control of the final cut.

Secondly, if my children ended up speaking like Alice did about other people, I would be mortified. One suspected that at no point had they told her anything other than what she believed. In fact, you could tell from the few comments by the mother in the film that they probably stemmed directly from her. I know people like this exist - in fact, quite a few of them went to my school - but the mind boggles, it really does.

So what does anyone think - would you let your child be filmed for a documentary?

Monday 10 November 2008

Crap mummy

Ever have one of those surreal 'how did I get here' moments? I had one at 10am last Sunday morning; standing shivering outside my front door singing 'Old Macdonald' through the letterbox, with a toddler wearing an oversized fleece.

How had it happened? Read on and learn....

I forgot one of the golden rules of having small children; never, ever go outside without a key. And I wouldn't, normally, but in this case I thought I was just nipping out for a few seconds, to wipe some offending bird poo off our front window. However, once outside, I noticed (well, OK, remembered - I had been noticing for months) that the short pathway between the street and our front door was a disgrace; it seemed to have become the receptacle for not only about three years' worth of autumn leaves, but a tonne of random rubbish; crisp packets, old takeaway boxes knawed by foxes and weird bits of plastic piping (detritus from the Thames Water trench diggers, who have now thankfully departed).

So I went to get a broom, threw on an old fleece of The Doctor's, and started sweeping. Littleboy 1, who loves brooms, then rushed out holding another brush, and wanted to help.

It was at this point that Littleboy 2 came along and helpfully slammed the door shut on us.

The Doctor was out - he was on call and had gone briefly to the hospital - and I had no key, no mobile phone nor any suitable clothes to protect Littleboy1 (who was wearing jeans, t-shirt and socks) against the brisk November chill. The sky threatened rain. What to do?

I peered around our street. It was spookily silent, with most of the curtains closed. As mentioned previously, we live on the unfashionable edges of the real Nappy Valley, so most of our neighbours are not other families with small children who would have been up for hours at 10am on a Sunday. These days, the majority seem to be cheerful twentysomething Aussies who work in the City and party hard at weekends, and who are definitely going to be in bed on a Sunday morning. Even the handful of neighbours that we know quite well didn't appear to be around. And stupidly, we had not got around to giving anyone a spare key since the good friends we had in the street moved away three years ago.

Now, I knew that soon, The Doctor would be on his way home - but how long could we wait outside for? I began weighing up various scenarios - could I be prosecuted for leaving a nearly-two year old alone in the house - even if I could see him through the letterbox?

It was OK at first. Littleboy 2 was quite pleased with himself for slamming the door, and the two boys took great delight in passing stuff (bricks, lego, even the TV remote) to each other through the letterbox. But then he got bored, and started whimpering. He wanted a cuddle from Mummy. And, although he could see me through the letterbox, he could not understand why I was unable to get in. Meanwhile, Littleboy 1 (who kept excitedly repeating, 'we can't get in the house, Mummy') was getting cold, so I wrapped him in his dad's fleece.

Ten minutes now and no sign of the Doctor. Littleboy 2's whimpering escalated into full blown hysterical crying.

Eventually I picked up the shoe-less Littleboy 1 and marched up to one of the neighbouring Aussie houses - the only one that had a light on. A genial young Aussie bloke wearing shorts (or were they pyjamas?) and munching on a bowl of ceareal opened up and kindly let me use the phone. The Doctor assured me that he would be home within 15 minutes.

Littleboy 1 was offered the option of sitting and watching TV in the Aussie house, but became uncharacteristically shy and refused. So, we spent the next quarter of an hour standing on the doorstep, trying desperately to keep Littleboy 2 happy by singing songs through the letterbox. All I could see was his distressed little face peering up at me, and the moment I stopped singing it would crumple. So we went through Twinkle twinkle little star, Baa baa black sheep, Row, row row the boat - and all the farm animals I could think of in Old McDonald. By the time we were on 'monkey', The Doctor arrived home.

Littleboy 1 was most impressed by this adventure and spent the rest of the day explaining to people: "Mummy not got her key. I can't get in MY house. DADDY done it."

He has clearly got the measure of me. Yet again, crap mummy.

Friday 7 November 2008

Doula dilemma

Having dinner at a friend’s house the other night – let’s call her High Flying City Girl - she revealed that after several years of trying, she’s finally pregnant. I was naturally delighted for her.

There will, of course, have to be a few changes to HFCG’s life when baby is born. She already knows that her fabulous Docklands townhouse, with its minimalist décor, acres of glass and long, dramatically steep staircase, will be hopelessly unsuitable for children. And that her five-star spa holidays in the Maldives with her Hedge Fund Hubby will inevitably be curtailed for a little bit, as will their regular dinners at Nobu and weekends at little designer hotels in the country.

But there is one thing HFCG won’t have to cut down on – her beauty sleep.

“Of course, I’m going to hire a doula for after the baby’s born,” she announced, sounding as if no woman in their right mind would not – and in her world, this is probably true. Hedge Fund Hubby was all for it (well, he wouldn’t want to be getting up in the night for moral support, would he? Let alone have to put up with a frazzled and knackered wife.)

Now I might well have been naïve, but when I had Littleboy 1, I hadn’t even heard of maternity nurses, doulas or whatever else you choose to call them. I was therefore amazed when, after the first few befuddled weeks of looking after a new baby, learning to breastfeed, recovering from a C-section and getting by on virtually zero sleep, I bumped into a neighbour, who had also just given birth. Her husband’s work (another hedge fund, funnily enough) had actually paid for her to have a maternity nurse for the first few weeks, to help with breastfeeding, getting up in the night and general baby care.

I was both incredulous and unbelievably envious – although I definitely wanted to feed Littleboy 1 myself, I did find it hard at first and at that point would have killed for some nice, experienced maternal-looking person to give me some advice and support.

A few years later, and it seems half of Nappy Valley employs some kind of maternity nurse after giving birth. I once bumped into an acquaintance from the playground, who had recently had a second child, and she looked dreadful. I asked her whether she was OK. “Oh, I’m having an awful time,” she said. “The maternity nurse is off on holiday this week, so I’m having to get up in the night AND look after the baby all day.”

Sounds familiar to me, I thought – after all wasn’t that what I did for the seven months or so until Littleboy 1 slept through? Isn’t that what most normal mothers do? After all, Littleboy 1 and I got through the sleepless nights (albeit with me ending up with severe insomnia, panic attacks and a health visitor convinced I had postnatal depression). And the second time round, it wasn’t nearly so difficult.

But at the same time, I was thinking: well, if I had the cash, maybe I would have done the same? So I wonder; are we just shielding ourselves from the reality of motherhood by outsourcing the hard work to someone else? Or perhaps, in these days when mothers, maiden aunts and other helpful matronly types aren’t living round the corner (or in my case, aren’t around at all) paying out for someone to help with a newborn is a no-brainer?

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Feelgood factor

So we woke up this morning and the world felt like a better place.

Yesterday was a day of frustrations and niggles- the ongoing saga of our flooding washing machine pipe; the mice that have inexplicably returned to our kitchen; the plumber that charged me £104 for doing sod all; the dentist that is going to charge me £200 for doing not very much (I think I may retrain as a plumber or dentist); the online bank account application that took me hours and then didn't appear to have worked. Not to mention the impossible freelance feature I have taken on that requires getting comment from people who are never in a million years going to speak to me; the fact that Littleboy 1 seems to be getting up twice a night at the moment and that both Littleboys have decided that jumping on the sofa is the most productive way to spend the half-hour between bath and bedtime.

But all was forgotten on hearing the US election result. He has a hell of a lot to live up to, but Obama seems like one of the good guys. OK, so telling his kids he'd bought them a puppy in the middle of his victory speech was straight out of a cheesy Hollywood script. But then again, Hollywood hasn't come up with many good scripts recently (we went to see Quantum of Solace last weekend - I rest my case). Right now, we need a bit of feelgood. The decision of the American voters definitely provides it.

And, as our trip to the US looks more and more likely, I'm personally glad we're not going to be living in a land where the majority of people voted for a crazed hockey mom.