Friday 30 January 2009

Picture this

As regular readers of the blog may have noticed, I am not very good at posting photos. This is partly deliberate: I have been trying to preserve a thin veil of anonymity for myself, and my family (adorable as the Littleboys are, I feel slightly nervous about letting any random stranger look at them). But it's partly because I have just been a bit lazy; other bloggers are far more creative. (Audrey, at Multitude, wrote recently that she wanted to know what I look like - so if any other bloggy friend is interested, email me and I'll send you a link to Facebook or something.)

Anyway, Mom/Mum has tagged me to post a picture, and she is so funny and lovely that this time I feel I must oblige. It's also quite a fun idea, because behind every picture lies a story. But oh lord, there are rules.

The rules are: Go to the 4th folder in your computer where you store your pictures; Pick the 4th picture in that folder; Explain the picture; Tag 4 people to do the same

Now, I have to say that I tried this. And here the plan fell apart. The fourth folder in the pictures file was called Kodak Pictures, and seemed to be some kind of generic wallpaper-type pictures that probably came with the computer. The next one down was a collection of baby pics we had made for Littleboy 2's first birthday. And in the next folder, the fourth picture down was a picture of three friends looking rather drunk on holiday, and I'm not too sure they want to be featured on my blog.

So I've scrolled down to the next most relevant one from the same holiday: me, probably eating my picnic lunch, during a walk in the Alps in the summer of 2003, and luckily far enough away that I'm not too recognisable. You can at least admire the gorgeous Alpine scenery. The Doctor and I were spending a few days in France, en route to meet four friends for a week in Italy. It was a wonderful week; after the energetic walking in France, we were incredibly indolent in Italy, reading novels in the sun, drinking gin and tonics in in the swimming pool and spending boozy evenings round the barbecue. We vowed we would do it again. However, one couple conceived their first child on the holiday; the other shortly afterwards. We had our first two years later. The next time we all went away - three years later - we had four little boys between us and it was a cottage holiday in Wales. Still fun, but very different.

So it seems I have to tag four more people now. Come on down, Iota at Not wrong, just different, Paradise Lost in Translation, Mud in the City and Potty Mummy.

Monday 26 January 2009

Come on into the library....

I spent some time this weekend going through cardboard boxes full of books, in preparation for our move abroad. (This was no mean feat, as Littleboy 2 now has an appalling case of chicken pox, and clung to me like a limpet 24/7, crying MUMMY every time I so much as went to the loo. He looks like a plague child, covered in suppurating sores, and I can barely leave the house in case people start dawbing crosses on our front door).

I have a heck of a lot of books, and it occurred to me as I sorted through them, my bookshelves really represent a little potted history of my life. So here it is. Nappy Valley - a life in literature....

The precocious reader
I was voracious reader from the time I could open a book (although I don't know what happened to all those childhood favourites - and I quite fancy revisting all my Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne of Green Gables stories now). As a teenager, I read constantly, devouring anything from Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jane Austen to 80s bonkbusters like Riders or the dreadful Flowers in the Attic. Then, when I was 17, my library suddenly multiplied. I entered and won a short story competition in 'Just 17' magazine and the prize was £150 worth of Penguin Books. My mother sensibly directed me towards decent literature, rather then letting me buy up the entire oeuvre of Jackie Collins. And so it was that I owned a respectable collection of Dickens, DH Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh even before I became an English Literature undergraduate.

The drama queen
At school I fancied myself as a bit of thesp, taking A Level Theatre Studies and dreaming of auditioning for RADA. (Clearly, it never happened. If it had, I would be standing up there receiving awards instead of Kate Winslet instead of pushing a pram around Nappy Valley. Wouldn't I?). So here we have the collections of plays; from Arthur Miller to Ibsen and Strindberg (yes, I was a SERIOUS actress) to John Osborne and Noel Coward. So what happened to this adolescent passion? Well, let's just say that on arrival at University, I was so put off by a bunch of luvvy drama students doing 'impro, darling' at an audition that I never considered acting again..

The slacker student
At University, I acquired another sackload of books; Arden Shakespeares, with notes frantically scribbled in margins, reams of poetry from Chaucer to Byron to Wordsworth to Baudelaire; French novels and drama (part of my degree course was French Lit); and 20th century literature like Ulysses (the only book I ever managed to write an essay on without having read). I wrote my dissertation on Margaret Atwood, so have her entire works, all bursting with post-it note annotation. But by the end of my degree, I was English Litt-ed out. I didn't want to pick up another classic for years. I threw myself into journalism with relief, realising that academia was not for me. Thereafter follows a shameful collection. No, I am not talking about the fact that I own the entire works of Jilly Cooper (which actually I won't apologise for - she's brilliant); it's the forestful of books with pink covers and illustrations of women in stilettos that I regret....

The Chicklit years
Yes these were the chicklit years - a genre which I find deeply frustrating. Occasionally you will happen upon a chick-lit gem (Bridget Jones' diary, which arguably inspired the whole movement, is one of these) but most of it is utter dross, and so forgettable that I've quite often re-read one and not realised until half way through that I've read it before. I spend my entire time thinking, "I'm sure I could write something much better than this," but - even more deeply frustrating - I haven't actually managed to. But I kept buying the stuff in the hope that I would stumble upon the holy grail of light, fluffy, but ultimately satisfying romantic fiction.

Nappy brain
After Littleboy 1 was born, I don't think I read a book for about six months. Well, apart from pregnancy and baby manuals - What to expect when you're expecting, The Rough Guide to Pregnancy, The Baby Whisperer (I refused to go near Gina Ford). The Doctor accused me of having what, on holidays abroad, we used to call 'guide book overload'. This is when you have several different guidebooks, all telling you completely different things. You spend your time agonising over the options; what restaurant to eat at, whether or not to bother with a particular place, and whether to do the walk to the beach that the Rough Guide says is marvellous, because you know from previous experience that it will be dreadful (there's a reason no-one else is there). Having too many baby books is a bit like this; I would forever be quoting 'BUT THE BOOK SAYS...' at The Doctor, as I tore my hair out with worry over something like burping.

Renaissance Woman?
Just prior to the birth of Littleboy 2, I had a window of relative peace and started reading again, and, with the help of the local library, began to enjoy contemporary literature. So my bookshelves from this brief period feature writers such as Jonathan Coe, Rose Tremain, Ian McEwan and assorted Booker winners. But this time was all too brief...

Listen with Mother..
Since the birth of Littleboy 2, serious reading has been nigh on impossible. I spend most of the week finishing the weekend papers in the snatched ten minutes before going to sleep. Yes, I know I could be reading instead of blogging, but if I do sit down to read a book with the children, they'll snatch it out of my hands within minutes and clamber all over me, and if I'm not careful they'll rip it to shreds. Once they've gone to bed, I'm too shattered to do much but eat and watch TV.

So, the books you're most likely to see me with these days are The Gruffalo's Child, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Tiger That Came to Tea. Or occasionally I'll revisit the chicklit years and binge on a bit of so-called Mummy Lit (The Secret Life of a Slummy Mummy was good, but rather like chick lit, much of it is sloppily written froth).

So come on, I'd like to know what people are reading now. What authors get you going? What novel haven't you been able to put down recently? And more importantly, if you are a parent, how do you find time to read?

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Assessment time

A while ago, I posted about my dilemma over schools and whether to put Littleboy 1 down for any just in case our US plans fell through. Well so far, they haven't fallen through - unless anything untoward happens, we'll be moving in the summer - but I had after all filled in the form for a local private school, as well as applying for state ones via the council website. After all, nothing seems to be certain in these uncertain times....

So the day of Littleboy 1's 'assessment' at the private school arrived a few weeks ago, and off we went. The school that I had opted for is a very academic one, so they select children on 'academic potential'. How the hell they can do this with a bunch of three year olds beats me, but at any rate I didn't get to see how, because they take the children off for over an hour in order to achieve it.

Afer Littleboy 1 was led away by a kindly lady with a scary-looking clipboard, I was left to chat to the other parents, both prospective and those who currently had children at the school, over tea and biscuits.

And it was here that my half-arsed attempt to apply for schools let me down. "So what other schools are you applying to?" enquired one mother. "Oh, er, just this one actually. And the local state schools," I replied. She looked at me as if I were completely and utterly mad. "Well, haven't you thought about X Hall? Or Y prep? (she mentioned two other local prep schools). It's very academic here, you know, it doesn't suit everyone."

Not wanting to go into the details of my position as regards moving abroad, or the fact that I had only gone to one Open Day, I said, "Er, not really....I just liked the look of this one". I then (foolishly) added that I had failed to put his name down for any schools at year dot, and one good thing about this particular one was that you only had to apply a few months beforehand. (Which is true, because when Littleboy 1 was small, I assumed that we would have moved by now and would live near to a decent state school.) But she stared at me again as if I was the most irresponsible, clueless parent out, who had clearly not undertaken the required amounts of research, before swiftly moving on to talk to someone else.

I moved on to chat to another group of parents. They weren't talking about the school at all (thank God) but having a lovely natter about ski-ing, with everyone raving about how wonderful it is that you can fly from City Airport now to the Alps. (No signs of the economic crisis here, I noted.) I mentioned that we were thinking of driving down overnight with our two small children when we go ski-ing this spring. Oh dear- more incredulous looks...

Another Mummy got very over- excited when I mentioned that my son has a summer birthday. "Oh, but that's brilliant, because they get POINTS for being younger, he'll start off with TEN POINTS already in the assessment." (I had visions of Littleboy 1 donning the yellow jacket of the Tour de France or similar.)

Eventually we regrouped to collect our little treasures after their gruelling assessment. I have no idea how he fared, other than that he 'drew a beautiful picture and wrote his name' (Good boy - although with ten children competing for each place, my hopes are still not high...). We'll find out in a few weeks.

But I rather think that Mummy, on the other hand, scored nulle points....

Monday 19 January 2009

Sisters are doin' it for themselves

It is awards season. And I'm not just talking about the blogging ones that are flying around, nice as they are to receive. I'm talking about the Oscars, Baftas, Golden Globes and everything else that livens up the news each morning with a bit of escapist celebrity-related froth. (Everything else is just too gloomy; I'm beginning to have to switch the radio off when the presenter announces: 'and now more bad news about the stock market' and Robert Peston of the BBC just needs to take a holiday). From Kate Winslet's ridiculous emotional speech, to the raging debate over whether Slumdog Millionaire, highly tipped for the top awards, is a feelgood movie (and I STILL haven't seen it yet, so I'll have to reserve my judgement) it's all about the nominations, trophies and frocks.

But now I'd like to hand out an award. And not to some smug actress who's had to spend, oh poor thing, seven months on location holed up with Ralph Fiennes in a trailer (no, I'm not jealous, Kate, I'm really not...).

My Oscar this year would go to my little sister.

Pretty well exactly a year ago, her partner of over 15 years and father of her two small children walked out on her. He didn't give a reason at first, apart from mumbling something about it just not working any more. He just went, and at first she didn't even know where he was staying. He refused to answer his mobile and didn't even call to ask how the children were - despite the fact that his then four year old son absolutely worshipped his Dad. Although he had been behaving oddly in the run up to this - staying out late drinking after work, in some instances not even coming home and saying he'd 'slept on a mate's floor' - he denied hotly that there was anyone else involved.

It wasn't until a month or so later that she was contacted through Facebook, of all things, by a complete stranger who informed her that HIS girlfriend was having an affair. With her partner. He had followed them from work, caught them in the act, and worked out through the machinations of Facebook who my sister was, in order to let her know. Her partner, from herewith known as Mr Dastardly, reluctantly admitted the truth - it had been going on for months.

I should mention that at the point at which this happened, my sister was midway through a very intensive graduate teacher training course, having decided, in her early 30s, to retrain as an Art teacher. She was working five days a week, and most of the weekend too, and was just about managing to hold it together with two children under the age of five. So to become a single mother at this point in the proceedings was not, shall we say, exactly helpful.

Mr Dastardly didn't see or talk to the children for the first four months, or even do her the courtesy of calling her to discuss how they were going to divide up their worldly goods. It was only because, with the help of my Dad, she contacted a lawyer, that they have ended up with an arrangement for Mr Dastardly to see his offspring for a few hours each weekend. (Fatherly duties are clearly not a priority for Mr Dastardly, who went away to Scandinavia for Christmas with his new girlfriend, not even bothering to call on Christmas Day and speak to the children.)

But I am proud to say that one year on, my sister is thriving. Not only did she manage to qualify as a teacher, she landed a plum job in the grammar school where she was training, and is loving her new career. She looks fantastic (having lost several stones in weight through sheer stress) and thanks to the help of friends, is starting to forge herself a social life. And this weekend, she organised a superb party for her son's fifth birthday, with an entertainer, dancing and the nicest-looking birthday tea I think I can remember. I haven't seen my nephew look so happy since his Dad left.

Some people (probably me) would have completely fallen apart, but the way she has found the strength to pick herself up and carry on is incredible. So I just wanted to share her story with a few people out there. And the parenthood Oscar for this year goes to her.

Oh, and if you know Mr Dastardly, give him a nice big slap in the face for me, won't you?

Friday 16 January 2009

Manic children - and an award to make up for it

With the chicken pox in retreat, Littleboy 1 went back to nursery yesterday. After several days languishing at home, he was brimming with energy - awake at 5.30am, demanding that I switch on the light and read him a book called 'Lift the flap - dinosaurs' at 6.30 (I refused - does that make me a bad mummy?) and hurtling into the nursery like a tornado at 8am. Not two hours later the nursery phoned to say he had cut his head running into a door, and while it didn't look too bad, they wondered whether I would like to come and take him to Casualty?

After several discussions with The Doctor, we decided to leave it, as it wasn't still bleeding, and Daddy would look at it later. Which he did, and luckily decided it was fine. (Well, there have to be some compensations for being married to a doctor). Meanwhile Littleboy 1 was as manic as ever, racing around the house last night, asking for Pingu (which always makes him completely wild - a friend of ours has a theory that Pingu has been made more hyper over the years, but that's another whole post) and refusing to go to bed until 9pm.

This morning both Littleboys seemed just as crazy and were in dire need of burning off some of their energy. The weather being damp and grey, I decided to take them to the Horniman Museum, a few miles down the road from us in Forest Hill. There's a good aquarium there, and lots of stuffed animals (very un PC but the Littleboys don't seem to care). Most importantly, they could race around it rather than around my house.

I looked on the website and noticed that there was a 'kids' storytelling' session for Under Fives at 10, so when we arrived, we took a ticket and went along. I wondered naively if this might be an opportunity to sit and have a cup of coffee while someone else read to my children. But no....

Not only was it a major mistake with two manic children, who were not going to sit still for one second, the 'storytelling' also seemed to involve lots of parental participation (joining in with actions, shouting Cock a doodle do etc) that I just wasn't in the mood for. Despite the valiant efforts of the storyteller, it reminded me rather too much of Rabbit Rhymes, and, after a bad night's sleep, I was starting to remind myself of one of the parents I once described who sits there looking desperate back to be back in the office. I kept my eye on the clock throughout, praying that it would finish, as the Littleboys fought over who got to sit on Mummy's lap and threw the cushions that they were supposed to be sitting on around the room.

Much better was the aquarium, where the Littleboys managed to entertain a party of teenage schoolgirls who had clearly been sent there by an over-enthusiastic art teacher to draw fish and looked incredibly bored by the task. And then they raced around the room containing the stuffed animals for about half an hour in a state of high excitement. I think I may have finally exhausted them....

Anyway, despite my manic morning, there is something to brighten my day. I am delighted to find that I am the recipient of an award (see above) from no less than two of my favourite fellow bloggers, Mom/Mum and A Confused Take That Fan.

This one is a Spanish award, no less, for 'being charming' (does that make me Penelope Cruz then? I do hope so). And I am supposed to include the following text as I pass it on:

"Blogs who receive this award are "exceedingly charming," says its authors. This award is a fine one because it focuses not on the glory and fanfare of blogging, but in the PROXIMITY to one another through this online-world. This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY--nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this clever-written text into into the body of their award."

Well, although I confess I didn't really start blogging with the intention of making friends, I do feel like I've found some real kindred spirits through the blogosphere (andI love the way that bloggers sometimes reveal more about their lives than ever your real friends would). So I approve.

I'm going to pass it on to just a couple of others - as I really must go and pay some attention to my children now. More than just a Mother, a relatively new blogger who has already managed to make me laugh a lot, and Wife in Hong Kong, because not only do I love reading about where I grew up, I think she's a very good blogger and more people should read her. And both, of course, are charming.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Spot the difference

The Littleboys have chicken pox. Well, strictly speaking, Littleboy 1 has it, but Littleboy 2 is almost certainly brewing it. (I have no illusions about him not catching it from his brother - particularly since last night in the bath I caught him scrubbing his toothbrush against his brother's spotty back and then putting it in his mouth....)

In truth, it wasn't much of a surprise, as two of the cousins had it at Christmas, but these things never happen at a 'convenient' time. The Doctor has chosen this week to print out the final version of his thesis - a task that seems to involve buying copious amounts of special photographic paper, frantically ordering ink cartridges and laying pieces of freshly inked paper precariously out to dry on the dining room table. Meanwhile I am working on a complicated feature with a looming deadline - whereas in a couple of weeks' time I will in all likelihood have no work at all. So we could both do without a small boy at home, bored, because he's not allowed back to nursery until the spots have crusted over.

Having said that, Littleboy 1 is putting a very brave face on it, considering he's covered in spots, even on his - ahem - dangly bits, which must be pretty excruciating. And he seems to have slotted into the 'off sick' role very well - cheerfully waving his brother off to nursery, demanding to watch Madagascar at 9am, and coming into the study to show me his spots at regular intervals and tell me firmly that he won't be going back to to nursery any time soon.

Of course, as my friend Nota Bene keeps reminding me, people used to have chicken pox parties so that their kids could get it over and done with; but as I tell him, times have changed. These days, working mothers are so paranoid about their children getting sick and having to be off nursery or school that they will do anything to avoid it. (Put it this way - I know plenty of parents who send their kids to nursery in the full knowledge that they are ill, having dosed them up with Calpol and knowing that they will 'last' until lunchtime. Then they don't have to explain to their boss that they are yet again having to take a day off work, and can leave quietly at 3 pm). So, as most of my mummy friends work, having a jolly little chicken pox get-together is about as likely as letting the three year olds sit down to watch Reservoir Dogs.

But truly, the whole thing seems a bit ridiculous. Chicken pox seems to be the last mild childhood disease that is deemed serious enough to be off nursery but not serious enough to be vaccinated against. So perhaps, either we should just accept that all children get chicken pox and let them go to nursery regardless, or there should be a universal vaccination (at the moment, you have to do it privately in the UK). Then, anyone who is really at risk (like pregnant women who haven't had it, or people with low immunity) should in theory, have either had it, or been vaccinated. Instead, everyone goes around behaving as if it's the plague. Chicken pox amnesty, that's what I say.

To change tack slightly, I've just realised that it's a YEAR since I started the blog, so I thought it might be time for a little retrospective. I began by trying to take a satirical little sideswipe at Nappy Valley life with this but the following week managed to lose my pram and then find it again, revealing me for the slightly crap mummy that I really am, and setting the tone for lots of future confessions......

Friday 9 January 2009

Ice cold in Brockwell

So the Big Freeze obviously didn't get my letter, and continues to reign over us.

This morning, having spent three days shivering at the computer in my ski socks, I decided to brave Brockwell Park with the Littleboys. The sun was shining, even though the car dashboard told me it was minus 0.5 degrees, so how cold could it be? Perhaps the warning bells should have gone off when I saw that the usually popular playground was completely deserted......

Well, let's just say that we have never been to the playground before and found sheet ice on the slide. Not that I realised it was ice, until Littleboy 2 decided to go down it and shot off the end like a bobsleigh competitor. Irresponsible Mummy. Still, he seemed fine (if a little surprised), and his brother found it all highly amusing.

The seesaw was also icy, but they insisted on me going on it with them, so all three of us ended up with icy bottoms. And I decided that the big, scary climbing frame, which Littleboy 1 always gets stuck at the top of, was definitely out of bounds today.

We had the usual saga of whether or not they wanted gloves on - which normally goes something like this. Littleboy 1 is cold, and so we put on his gloves. Five minutes later, he announces: "My hands are not cold any more, Mummy," and takes them off (usually chucking them on the ground without a care). He then starts complaining that his hands hurt. We put gloves back on. And repeat, on a loop, until we've all had enough....

Then we went for our usual walk to see the ducks and moorhens on their ponds. But the ponds were frozen solid, and the ducks were nowhere to be seen. A family of Brent geese pottered on the ice, so these at least provided some entertainment, but all in all, while I found the silent, frozen ponds with their dustings of leaves and twigs rather beautiful, the Littleboys seemed disappointed at the lack of interesting wildlife.

On the way back to the car, Littleboy 1 shot off down the hill on his scooter, leaving me running behind with the pram like a madwoman, shouting 'slow down' and having terrible visions of him skidding on black ice. Luckily, the path had been gritted - and even more luckily, he managed to slalom around the large group of disabled people on an outing who were coming up the hill.....

Still, I suppose it's all good preparation for learning to ski (we're planning to take him to the Alps this Spring). What's more, he'll have to learn to wear gloves then. Although, as The Doctor remarked the other day, the thought of him on a chairlift is altogether too terrifying. I think I'll leave that to the ski instructors...

Monday 5 January 2009

Dear Big Freeze

Dear Big Freeze,

Do you think you could possibly go away now please? I think our time together must come to an end. I mean, you were pretty fun to begin with. Everything looking beautifully frosty in the mornings, ponds frozen solid even in Central London, a chance to wear the thick winter jerseys that have been languishing in my wardrobe the past two mild winters. Even the alpaca hat that I bought for the Inca Trail has had an outing - and the Doctor (someone who will not even put on a hat while skiing) has been glimpsed wearing gloves on several occasions....

But now I'm getting fed up. Let me list the reasons why.

1. My draughty Victorian house cannot cope with you. Even something as innocuous as a fast food leaflet stuck in the letterbox seems to let in a powerful stream of freezing air. Unless we have the gas fire on, cold comes down the chimney and turns our living room into an igloo. And the radiators on the upper floor seem to have gone on strike.

2. The Littleboys, whom I previously thought were impervious to cold, are feeling it. Every walk we now go on turns into a neverending saga of trying to replace gloves and hats that they have either removed or dropped. Eventually, I get fed up and put the gloves away. The walk then ends in tears, with one of the boys screaming that they are cold.

3. My skin and lips are permanently chapped and even layers of night cream and Vaseline do not appear to be doing any good. I may have to resort to goose fat.

4. The credit crunch having killed off my office job before Christmas, I am now going to be working from home three days a week, so will need to crank up the heating all day, resulting in sky-high bills, or my fingers will freeze at the keyboard.

5. My plan to eat healthily for the whole of January seems much less tempting in the freezing cold, when steaming mugs of hot chocolate and plates piled high with pasta are so appealing. And going for a run around the Common? Well, the horses aren't even running at racetracks, so I've decided that the going is just too tough.

6. If you actually produced snow that settled, it would be quite pretty. But you don't. You just snow wetly and ensure that we can't go to the playground because it's too mucky.

So could you just go back to Siberia, the Arctic, or wherever it was you came from, please. I know we'll be seeing much more of you next year in New York, but I think I can wait until then.


a shivering

Nappy Valley Girl

Friday 2 January 2009

Out with the old, in with the new

Well, New Year's Eve didn't exactly go out with a bang this year at Nappy Valley Central. Our original plans having fallen through some time ago, we felt too exhausted by Christmas and illness to make new ones, so we sat at home, nursing the remnants of our colds and giggling at Meet the Fockers over a bottle of champagne, before going to bed at five past twelve to the sounds of distant fireworks.

And thus it was that we woke up at 8am on January 1st (the Littleboys having granted us the most amazing lie-in) feeling fresh, reinvigorated...and ready to reassemble prams.

One of the Doctor's cousins is about to become a father, so we decided to take the opportunity of a family New Year's lunch to hand over some of our baby stuff that is no longer in use: a newborn carseat, the beloved Baby Bjorn bouncy chair, the sling, a playgym - and our original Bugaboo pram. Since we've had the double buggy, we've hardly used it (which brings me quite neatly to the below*) and unlike most people we know, we haven't sold it on eBay. It was still in the position designed for older babies, so this task required locating all the other bits and pieces and converting it back to a carrycot. It was all such a hazy memory we had to hunt down the instruction book. After The Doctor had spent the best part of half an hour on his stomach in the kitchen reattaching bits of velcro, we had a good look at all our high quality baby equipment and said to each other, "My God, we must have spent a lot of money - were we mad?".

In one way it felt good to offload some of the contents of our house, as when we go away to the US it will all have to go into storage anyway, and it was nice to feel that we could provide a member of the family with some decent stuff. But in another way, it felt a little bit sad - the Littleboys are becoming bigger boys and we no longer have a tiny baby. Even if we had another (which remains unlikely), it was a reminder that, for the moment, those days have gone.

Still; new year, new challenges. Getting Littleboy 1 out of nappies at night; getting Littleboy 2 to drink from a beaker, rather than a bottle, of milk in the morning. Getting ourselves ready to move continents in five months time....argh. Have decided I will think about that on January 6th. It's still Christmas, isn't it? Pass the chocolates....

*I'm not really into the idea of reviewing/plugging products on my blog, but I have to admit that when I was contacted by the buggy company Bugaboo recently to have a look at their new social networking site, Bugaboo Friends, I was intrigued. After all, Bugaboo is a brand with which I have had a close relationship.....

Let's go back in time (cue eerie music) May 2005. When I met up with my class of NCT girls shortly after we all had our babies, six out of eight of us were pushing Bugaboo Frogs. The Doctor and I had chosen it, not because it was the 'trendy' pushchair of the day (we had never been cool, and were not about to start) but because it was slim and compact - suitable for the narrow doorway of our Victorian house. It also had good, robust wheels - suitable for the dodgy pavements of Lambeth. I assume my NCT friends had thought likewise.

For the first 18 months of Littleboy1's life, it went everywhere. It was light to push, and versatile - I especially liked the carseat plus wheels combo that meant you could put the baby straight from car into buggy without waking them.

But, oh Bugaboo, Bugaboo - you missed a trick. Because, when my NCT group and I all had our second children, we all appeared with another pram - the double Phil and Teds. The Bugaboos were put out to pasture.

As far as I am aware, Bugaboo don't do a double buggy, but, like the Carlsberg ad says, if they did, it would probably be the best double buggy in the world. OK, they do a 'buggy board' where the older child can stand on the back, but this is a) only suitable for short trips, particularly if your age gap is small and b) has a habit of turning your shins black and blue as you smash into it while walking.

So what do I think of Bugaboo Friends? Well, it looks good - there's a gallery of photos of people all round the world with their Bugaboos and there are some nice features, like suggested walks in different cities. But to be honest, I'm not sure I see the point. Why would I want to be friends with someone just because they are a fellow Bugaboo owner?

I think I'd prefer it if Bugaboo had invested their cash in dreaming up a double Bugaboo. So there's your tip, Bugaboo. Go and do that. Then you'll really strike gold in Nappy Valley.