Wednesday, 29 July 2015

An evening ritual

Recently I've read a few blog posts, and Facebook posts, about parental weekends away and mothers' nights out, and I was struck once again that I haven't ever spent a night away from LittleBear. That's right. Since November 2011, I have never slept away from my little boy. In some ways I am desperate to do so. To have a morning where I am not woken by a small boy clambering over me and asking what we're going to do now, or demanding I read a story, or trying to physically peel my eyelids open. I'd love to go to bed without looking at my watch and thinking "Shit, I've left it too late to go to bed, I've now got six and half hours maximum before I get woken up. Shit, shit, shit, shit." And then the stress of knowing I'm not going to get enough sleep makes me lie awake worrying about not sleeping. Which is productive.

On the other hand...

Every night, on my way to bed, I creep into LittleBear's room to check that he's OK. Every night for the past one thousand, three hundred and fifty-three nights, I have crept into the dark and quiet of my baby's bedroom to watch him sleeping.

To softly stroke his tousled head; to hear the gentle whisper of his breathing; to see the barely-perceptible rise and fall of his chest; to crouch beside him and place a gentle kiss on his sleepy-warm head; to gaze at haphazardly outstretched arms, and legs draped over the side of the bed; to rescue the cuddly elephant that has tumbled out of bed; to tuck the duvet a bit closer round his little body. Every night, unbidden, the same words spring from me in a barely audible whisper, "my beautiful boy..." How could I miss this? How could I want to be apart from feeling that gentle heartbreak of aching love as I watch my baby sleeping, and wonder every time how much longer he will be my baby?

As I leave my LittleBear's bedroom every night I think, "don't grow up too quickly. Don't let me let these days slip away too fast. Don't hurry to the next thing. Don't slip away from me too soon. I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready for you to be a big boy. I'm not ready for you to not need me yet. I'm not ready to stop watching you and loving you as you sleep. I'm not ready for you to get up in the morning without climbing into bed and being cuddled first."

For every night that I haven't spent away, I've had a morning in which a small body presses itself against mine. A body that still has no inhibitions; that sees no boundary between him and me; that scrambles and levers and pushes itself to find the most comfortable spot amongst my lumps and bumps and sags and bags. I nestle my nose into his hair, and hold his warm softness close, hoping he'll always accept a cuddle from me, always know how much he is loved, always know that I am here, no matter what life brings. And sometimes my neck feels a little wet as an exploring face decides to try licking to see what I taste like, and sometimes my stomach gets a little chilly as exploring toes hook themselves into the waistband of my pyjamas; and sometimes my nose aches as an exploring head decides to see how hard it can push. And sometimes, in the greatest act of love that my LittleBear knows, he offers me his soggy, smelly, chewed nanoo* to cuddle. And I accept it, and hold it close despite the smell and the damp, because my baby loves me and to share his nanoo is the ultimate expression of that love, and because I remember how hurt I was when adults called my blankie disgusting or yucky or smelly. So we cuddle, nestled in the fug created by a nanoo, secure and happy in each other's love. Why would I want to miss any of this?

[For those who are wondering, yes BigBear is present during the morning wake-up. Present in body if not in mind. Waking up is not his forte, so he's largely comatose until about an hour after his first cup of tea.]

* For those who haven't met LittleBear, "nanoo" is his muslin. Any muslin will do, fortunately. He sucks/chews it for comfort, and currently still needs nanoo to fall asleep, when feeling shy, when injured or when upset. No, I don't have a problem with this, and I don't intend to wean him off it. I had a blankie until I was thirty. I never took her** to school, after I was 11 she was a bedtime only item and I turned out perfectly normal. And if you say any different I'm going to go and get my blankie out of the airing cupboard and retreat to bed with her.

** Yes, her. My blankie had a gender. Do you want to make something of this?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Principles for life

Here are some handy principles, that strike me as being a generally good way to treat other people. In fact, they also strike me as a pretty good guide to customer service*.

Principle 1
It should be assumed that everyone has the capacity to make his or her own decisions, unless it is proved otherwise.

Principle 2
A person should have all the help and support possible to make and communicate their own decision before anyone concludes that they lack capacity to make their own decision.

Principle 3
A person should not be treated as lacking capacity just because they make an unwise decision.

Principle 4
Actions or decisions carried our on behalf of someone who lacks capacity must be in their own best interests.

Actions or decisions carried out on behalf of someone who lacks capacity should limit their rights and freedom of action as little as possible.

In fact, they're the principles I've been given to read about my duties under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 as I sign a Lasting Power of Attorney. They just feel like overall pretty good principles - don't assume other people are useless until they prove themselves to be, and then don't take advantage of them. And if someone does something you think is stupid? That's not necessarily a sign that they're stupid, they might just think differently to you.

Sometimes the law isn't an ass after all.

* For some reason, and I fear it is occasionally related to being female, I find myself being treated by salesmen and tradesmen in direct contravention of principles 1 and 2. Why must people assume that the fact I lack a Y-chromasome also means I lack the ability to understand mains electricity, or the internal combustion engine? I'm sure it must get tedious dealing with people who don't understand your specialist field, and goodness knows I'm aware of the frustration of clueless customers, but I do at least try and give my customers the benefit of the doubt before making decisions in their best interests after they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of ionisation cross-sections.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Conflict? What conflict?

Having spent a large portion of last night imaging all sorts of awful scenarios, I opened LittleBear's curtain first thing in the morning to see The Mystery Neighbour out in his garden sweeping leaves off the roof of his shed. Leaves from our felled tree. I then spent an even larger part of this morning gazing at The Mystery Neighbour's rather injured tree, the wasteland that is our garden, and the meandering fence and wondering how on earth I was going to approach him...

I was tetchy and bad at playing with LittleBear all morning as I kept standing at the window, absorbed in my own stupid world of worry, rather than immersing myself in the much more rewarding world of Dimetrodon grandis and Dimetrodon milleri. (When you have two very different Dimetrodon toys in the house, it becomes necessary to investigate the different species to explain these differences... and no, for some reason it is completely beyond me to just make something random up).

After lunch, swelled with morale-boosting messages from Piglet and two of my Bear Cousins, we set off en famille to beard the dragon in his den.

"Hello? We live in the house at the end of your garden. I do hope the workmen haven't made too much noise or mess...."

"Oh no, not at all, but did you know? The last 6 green bin collections, my green bin has been completely full of garden waste, and now with these leaves it's full again!"

It turns out he's not a dragon, or an ogre, or an even remotely angry man. He's an absolutely delightful, slightly deaf, elderly gentleman called Colin. He showed us round his garden and told us which roses he'd grown from cuttings, and how well his hanging basket fuschia had over-wintered, and how the wind had taken down his rowan tree which he'd loved (as had I).

We chatted about the fence, which he owns in the sense that he paid to have it repaired when it fell down and we didn't know and couldn't access it anyway behind The Monstrosity. He's quite happy with it as it is, as long as we are, and is very pleased that The Improvements are going to go up with enough space for us to access and maintain the fence. And having looked at the fence, and the garden, and the plans for The Improvements in a slightly calmer frame of mind, there really isn't a problem with a fence that takes a loose approach to the concept of the straight line.

No conflict.

No stress.

No angst.

Just a lovely new neighbour.

I think I might see if he'd like to come round for tea in the garden when the Improvements are finished.

So everything's fine isn't it? Don't be ridiculous, this is me, I'm now getting increasingly worried about just how BIG The Improvements are going to be. I fear we may have been rather ambitious in our plans... See? I can worry about anything.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Worse than a phone call

So, the next big project in the Bear Household is finally underway. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and phone-calls and letters, and yes-but, no-but, what-about-ery we're finally having the monstrous shed demolished, the dying tree removed and a splendid new edifice constructed. It's going to be so splendid, we have decided to call it The Improvements. (This is a Bear Family joke that really won't survive the telling. I'm leaving it in solely for the two Bear Cousins that I know read this blog).

The Monstrosity

The Monstrosity might not look that bad here, but then we've done our best to hide it in some shrubs. It's made of pre-fab concrete, has an asbestos roof and a rotten wood floor suspended over an uneven concrete slab that the unwary are prone to fall through. Oh, and it used to have an electrical supply, but that's strangely gone missing. I mean, the wires are there, but there's no life in them. Which, as it turns out, is a Good Thing*. You can see why now we Got A Man In to sort it out can't you? Concrete, asbestos and dodgy mains electricity are simply not in my repertoire these days. Asbestos never was.

So, while we were all at work/nursery, the men came and started work...

Step one, and the asbestos is gone. Hooray!

The next day, another work/nursery day, they continued...

Step two, the Monstrosity is gone. Double Hooray!

And finally today, they came back for some hardcore chainsaw use to take out trees and shrubs. Me and LittleBear spent rather a while watching them from the window...

Step three, goodness the garden looks bigger!

So far so good. Except that, what with not having developed 3D photography for the home and garden yet, it's pretty tricky for you to see the state of the fence at the end of the garden. It's upright, just, I'll give it that, but in all other respects it looks as though it's been erected by a drunken lunatic. It essentially describes a zig-zag across the end of the garden. This is rather inconvenient when it comes to deciding where exactly to site The Improvements, as they will either have to come very close to the fence at some points, which will make maintenance tricky, or they'll have to be nearly a metre away from the fence at other points to provide access all the way along. And on top of that, I'm pretty certain it'll fall over if my daft cat jumps on it.

But that's OK, as we're responsible for all our boundaries, so the fence is ours to sort out. Except... apparently the man who lives beyond the end of the garden thinks it's his. And he was a bit ratty with the workmen when they started work. They've helpfully described him as "a bit wierd, you know, all smiles and then really bad tempered". Great, just great. A neighbour I've never met and he's already "really bad tempered". And my only way of sorting out what we're going to do about the fence is going to be to go round and talk in person. I can't get away with phoning since I don't even know his name, let alone his phone number.

"Hi! You don't know me, but you really hate what we're doing at the end of your garden, let's talk about fences shall we?" It's just going to go swimmingly.

I've even dug out my copy of the deeds to the house, and the land registry quite clearly states that we're responsible for that boundary. Given the competence of the land registry it's quite possible his deeds say he's responsible too though...

On top of not really knowing how to introduce myself without antagonising our neighbour, I don't even know what we really want to achieve. A straight boundary? What if that means nibbling into what's currently his garden? He's not going to like that, even if it is what's in the deeds. What if he has exciting plans for his perfect fence and is planning to enact them soon? What if he won't even speak to me? What if he starts ranting and raving at me? What if we replace the fence and he then takes it down? What if he replaces the fence and "straightens" the line by stealing some of our garden? What if this turns into one of those Nightmare Neighbours instances where the fence-war escalates beyond all reasonable proportion? What if I'm the nightmare neighbour? What if, what if, what if...

This is far, far, far worse than any phone-call. This is gut-churningly, hand-shakingly awful. I've spent most of today since talking to the workmen running over and over and over and over just the first few sentences of trying to talk to this neighbour. I've been feeling sick. I've been trying not to cry and upset LittleBear. I'm actually dreading going to bed because it's when I'm in bed that I'm liable to lie, in the dark and the silence, and let the demons crawl out of the dark spaces of my mind and start telling me all the worst possible things that could happen. The demons that think I'm always wrong. The demons that think everyone hates me. The demons that imagine everything bad in the world and pour their insidious poison into the very heart of me until I can't think straight, and it's dark and I'm alone and everything feels so hopeless and I cannot see any way that any of this can go right.

It's a bit late to back out of the whole project now, but that nice Mr Shakespeare knew a thing or two about how easily fear can throw one off course ...

And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn away,
And lose the name of Action.

Instead I shall gird my loins with a spot of Tennyson...

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

At least the neighbour doesn't have any cannons. Or rather, I don't think he does...

* The workmen report that when they stripped the wiring out of the Monstrosity, they found that on the switched side of the mains supply, live and neutral were wired together. Extraordinary. My current theory on how the electricity mysteriously disappeared is that when the electricity meter and consumer unit in the house were replaced, the electrician found the feed going to the shed and refused to wire it back in on the grounds of safety and sanity.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

My Grandfather. My hero.

This is another of my slightly left-field posts. Perhaps because I've recently been re-reading sections of my family's "Log" from our holiday cottage and have therefore been reunited with my grandfather's handwriting. Perhaps because I've been irked at work by opportunities that have passed me by. Either way, my mind has wandered to my grandfather, and to just what an extraordinary, accomplished, brilliant man he was.

My grandfather (KWP) was born in 1907 to a working class family in a small village in Derbyshire. When he reached an age where he could go to secondary school, there were only two available to him in Derbyshire. Presumably there were more than two schools, but none that would offer a free education.

KWP's parents wanted him to leave school and go to work, to help support his family. However, his headmaster managed to persuade them that they boy had potential and to let him continue with his education. It does his parents great credit that they agreed to give him a chance. Even then, it wasn't exactly an easy matter - he had a six mile walk across the fields to school every day, and six miles home again. He remained proud, to the very end of his life, that he undertook this walk every day come rain or shine. It's hard to imagine having that level of dedication to the simple act of getting to and from school every day. KWP certainly made sure his grandchildren knew how much harder it had been for him if we dared complain about school!

I don't know how it came about, whether his headmaster again encouraged him or whether he made the decision entirely himself, but at the end of school he applied to university. He was offered a place at Emmanuel College, Cambridge but in the end couldn't afford to take up the offer. Instead, he took up a place to read Chemistry at Nottingham University, much closer to home. From my perspective this was a sound choice, for it was during University Rag Week that he met my grandmother, who had just graduated with a first in Geography and her teacher training certificate simultaneously. (The extraordinary women in my family are going to be the subject of another post. I wouldn't diminish their achievements by making only passing remark to them here.)

At University, KWP turned into one of those people we all know, who seem to be good at everything. He captained the University cricket team as a fast bowler and in one match took all 10 wickets. He also broke 11 stumps in the course of his bowling career there. With his friends he also, after the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote a "Chemic Opera" - a comic opera on the theme of Dr Faust based in a Chemistry lab. He wrote the words, and his friends wrote the music. GrannyBear still owns the libretto to the opera, and we rather hope that her cousin owns the sheet music still. As it turned out, one of the the music-writing friends became GrannyBear's uncle by marriage, when he married my grandmother's sister. [Endearing aside here: One University holiday, KWP was invited to stay with his future in-laws, as my grandmother's beau, and he took his friend with him. My grandmother's sister's response on meeting said friend? "Isn’t he lovely, thank you KWP". Reader, she married him].

On top of all that, and cross-country running, and writing poetry, KWP graduated with a first in Chemistry. At that point he was offered a place on Notts County Cricket team. Sadly, in that era all players had to be amateurs and, not being a gentleman of independent means, he couldn’t afford it.

Instead he went on to undertake a PhD on silicon polymer chemistry under Frederick Kipping. From all accounts it wasn't a completely happy period, with a certain amount of friction between KWP and his supervisor. They did publish one paper together (J. Chem. Soc., 1930, 1020) but eventually KWP decided that he wanted to marry my grandmother, and being unable to support himself and a wife without a proper job, he left his PhD to start work as an industrial chemist for Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd (ICI). And he spread his wings and flew...

... During the war he set up the first nylon plant in Huddersfield to manufacture parachutes when the Allies had no access to silk from the Far East. (We have a rather unusual presentation gift from "The Works" in the shape of three industrial chemical vats, which contain samples of some original polymer.)

... After the war he, my grandmother, GrannyBear (12) and AuntBear (10) moved to New York where he became Managing Director of ICI New York.

... He became managing director of the heavy organic chemicals division of ICI.

... He was awarded an honorary ChemEng for his work with ICI. 

... He was quoted in the House of Commons by his MP, and appears to have been rather ahead of his time in 1964. Among the things he said were:

"I would also like to see some redistribution of Government departments away from London, and Tees-side take something from" [the over-concentration there]
"I would like to see a new university on Tees-side preferably a special institution for scientific and technological education and research of very special character."
Fifty years ago, my grandfather was trying to encourage investment into the north-east, and the de-centralisation of government. Fifty years on and nothing much has changed.

My grandfather, the working class boy who was to have left school at 11 but took a first in Chemistry instead. The young man who couldn't afford to go to the University of his dreams. The young man who couldn't afford to become a first class cricketer. The young man who couldn't afford to marry the love of his life and complete his PhD, so chose love. The young man who went on to become a captain of industry, who never let life hold him back, who championed the cause of the working man all his life, who painted in oils, who wrote poetry, who solved cryptic crosswords without filling the answers in, who could beat any one of us at cards as he counted the deck, who hybridized and named his own roses, who wrote stories for his grandchildren, who invented a dragon that lived in his wardrobe and had adventures with his grand-daughter. His woodworking left a bit to be desired, but you can't have everything can you?

My tragedy is two-fold - he was already 67 when I was born and died when I was 15 so I had little chance to know him, and I lost the last years of his life to Alzheimer's, so just when I began to consider my own path through life and would have loved to have heard more about his path, he was lost to me.

KWP, you gave me so much, and I love and miss you.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

All but your four fastest ships

This morning, for reasons that remain somewhat opaque to me, on our way to nursery LittleBear wanted to know about "all the animals that you and Daddy saw". This refers to our honeymoon in South Africa, particularly our trip to the Kruger National Park. So... I started trying to remember them for him...

Impala, Bushbuck, Springbok, Kudu, Nyala, Duiker, Crocodile, Buffalo, Wildebeest, Elephant...

And what else?

Hippo, Lion, Vervet Monkey, Waterbuck... 

And what else?

Baboon, Gecko, Rock Rabbit ...

And what else?

Zebra, Giraffe, Jackal, Squirrel...

And what else?

Vultures, eagles, lilac-breasted rollers, crested barbets, storks, herons, kites...

And what else?

Red hornbill, yellow hornbill, ground hornbill, double-collared sunbird...

And what else?

Getting desperate as my memory fails me on a species count from 6 years ago, I then made a tactical blunder and mentioned that we hadn't seen a leopard. I don't know what possessed me. There then ensued a long explanation of going out on a night drive and not seeing a leopard, which was a bit disappointing as every other night drive that week leopards were seen.

Why didn't you see a leopard?

Because it was hiding. (Come on, what was I supposed to say?)

Why did other people see the leopard?

Because it wasn't hiding when they looked. (I lined that one up nicely.)

So what did you see at night?

Erm... I can't remember... there was a very, very big crocodile, and a wildcat, and I think there might have been a genet, but I can't remember. I can't really remember what else we saw.

And what else?

I can't remember what else at night.

And what else in the day?

Errrr ... Oh! Yes, there were Klipspringer. They're one of my favourite, they stand on tippy-toes and jump from rock to rock. They're lovely.

And what else?

That's everything. I've told you all the things that we saw.

Except the things you saw at night that you can't remember.*
Yes, except those. I can't remember those.

Tell me the things you saw that you can't remember Mummy.


* For some strange reason I was reminded of Buttercup and Humperdink and the four fastest ships.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Ironing a tea-towel

Yesterday evening found me ironing a tea-towel. Just stop and think about that for a moment. Ironing. Ironing a tea-towel. Who does that kind of thing?

Let me try and explain my relationship to ironing. Purchases for my wardrobe are largely made based upon the cleaning and care requirements of the clothes. Does it need dry-cleaning? Not buying. Ponder what it will look like un-ironed... an abomination? Not buying. I do own a lovely pair of linen trousers. When I wear them, I love them, but they're white, and basically at the end of the day that's it, they're straight in the laundry basket. (To be honest, they're usually wrecked by lunchtime, but I draw the line at more than one outfit per day). They get washed. I'm pretty good at washing. And then they either go in a mysterious heap in the spare bedroom, or get hung up. Last time that happened it was TWO YEARS before I wore them again, because that was how long it was before I got the ironing board out again. Seriously, ironing just doesn't feature in my life. LittleBear doesn't know what the iron looks like, or what ironing is, and he's three-and-a-half now.

So how did I find myself ironing a tea-towel? (And pillowcases, and duvet covers. I nearly ironed a duster.)

Let me take you back to 1969. My beloved grandparents bought a holiday cottage in the Lake District. It was initially solely for the use of the family, but was soon being lent out to friends for holidays too. Because you could never quite guarantee who would be there, my grandmother wrote handy little notes, and sellotaped them to the inside of cupboards, and on the top of old biscuit tins, to inform visitors what lay within, and what should be returned. I think some of those little notices are still there. And the ones that have disintegrated have been replaced by similar notices in the hand of GrannyBear, or her sister AuntBear. There was never any question but that one must return all items to their proscribed locations. One must also always, on pain of my grandmother's diapproval, clean the cottage at the end of the holiday.

On one occasion University friends of my parents stayed and did not leave the cottage in an acceptable state at the end of their holiday. That was more or less the death-knell for non-family members being allowed to stay unaccompanied. My grandmother's disapproval was so stark, and so unwavering, that none of us dared ask again (and I don't think I was even born at the time). There now seems to exist an unspoken embargo on others staying there. They Might Not Clean Properly.

So now, we clean the cottage. And I turn into some kind of deranged monster in my insistence that it be clean to the standards of a woman who died thirty-odd years ago. Though my mother holds us all to the same standards. She notices if the skirting boards haven't been washed. Really. I'm not sure I've ever washed the skirting boards at home, but at the cottage? Oh yes. And I dust inside the lamp-shades, and move the fridge to clean underneath it. The kinds of the things that would be just a bit too much like effort at home, are utterly, irrevocably vital at the cottage. And it must all be done in one morning, as we're packing to drive for six hours to get home. No, I don't know why I make it so hard either. But I do know that BrotherBear does the same thing - his wife has complained to me that he goes a bit bonkers in cleaning up and starts doing un-natural things like cleaning behind bookcases.

I'm not entirely sure that the rest of the family has been imbued with the same sense of terror of Granny Disapproving Of Inadequate Cleaning, but my god it's had a lasting effect on me. (In fact given that one of my cousins once asked incredulously whether I genuinely got down on hands and knees to wash the kitchen floor rather than just using a mop, I know that it's perhaps affected one side of the family more than the other.)

What's all this got to do with tea-towels though?

Well... among the many facilities provided for the weary traveller at the cottage are a chest of drawers and an old chest full of tea-towels, towels, sheets, pillow-cases, blankets etc. And being incompetent and disorganised I had not taken any tea-towels, or any pillowcases with us. Go me. So I used the supplies from the cottage, and as is traditional, will pass them to the next visitor to return. But they came out of the drawer crisply ironed, and I cringe inwardly at the thought of returning a white Irish linen tea-towel in anything other than pristine condition. And thus I found myself ironing tea-towels. My family has a lot to answer for.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

What I learnt on my holiday

Now that I'm back on terra cognita (at least as far as connection to the interwebs is concerned) I can start boring you all senseless blogging again.
Despite my misgivings, we actually had a really lovely holiday. LittleBear loved it. I loved it. BigBear loved it. GrannyBear seemed to love it too. LittleBear certainly loved having GrannyBear with us. BigBear and I got to do excitingly grown-up and irresponsible things like go to the pub (frequently) and have a day out together. As feared, the decorating had not been accomplished, but at least it wasn't actually in progress while we were there, so we managed to make the un-decorated room habitable enough that we could install GrannyBear in it without feeling too guilty about her comfort levels.

Given GrannyBear's propensity for doing rash things like trekking across a glacier in the Himalayas, or camping on the skeleton coast of Namibia, the bar for "comfort level" has already been set pretty low, but this was a dispiriting room to arrive to:

Not the most welcoming bedroom
However, a bit of shuffling and a nice pink blanket and it's virtually a home-from-home. As long as home looks a bit like a crumbling shack.


Rather than bore you all with a "what I did on my holidays" style travelogue detailing how mahhhvelous LittleBear was, and how splendid it all was, which is neither interesting nor amusing for anyone outside my immediate family, and occasionally not even them, I thought I'd summarise the Interesting Things I Learnt.

In no particular order....
  • 3 adults to 1 toddler is the perfect contention ratio for a relaxing holiday. It allows any two adults to actually have a conversation with each other at any one time. Or read a book, which is considerably more likely in my family. 
  • Carpet shops are inherently tedious places for small boys and husbands. Carpet shops that have a play room complete with lego table are designed by The God Of Retail. I would be prepared to plan all my domestic shopping trips around premises that are equipped with lego. Mary Portas? Are you listening? Forget window dressing and soothing lighting design. Lego all the way.
  • Having no internet connection makes me a better mother. I do not spend any of my time being distracted by Facebook, email, following the Tour de France, the Ashes or the latest transfer rumours for Burnley. Instead I actually listen to my son and play with him. And because I'm not trying to  do something else while being unreasonably distracted by the small human being I've brought into the world, I'm not irritable with him either.
  • Having no dishwasher makes me a lot more efficient in my use of kitchen utensils. I also clean up properly, rather than abandoning half the objects I've used in a dirty state on the grounds the dishwasher is already full. The kitchen whilst on holiday was cleaner and tidier than ours ever is at home. This may also relate to the increased number of adults available for simultaneous tidying, cooking and playing.
  • LittleBear doesn't actually need very many toys, and concentrates better when there are fewer. We took one box of lego, two toy crocodiles and three cuddly penguins with us. He spent happy hours constructing things with lego, including an entire kitchen for his crocodiles to cook their wildebeest in.
  • I really do like beer. I like sitting in a quiet pub, laughing with my husband, drinking beer and not worrying about LittleBear. (He was safely asleep in the cottage, as on many occasions was GrannyBear).
  • LittleBear adores GrannyBear. This makes me extremely happy (and not just because it gives me a lot of off-duty time when GrannyBear is around, though that does help with the happiness quotient). There is something quite glorious about lying in bed in the morning, listening to the constant stream of chatter from the other bedroom where LittleBear has clambered into bed with his Granny. Or listening to GrannyBear reading Winnie the Pooh to LittleBear: hearing her animated voice bouncing out Tigger's "worra worra worra" took me straight back to my own childhood.
  • There are few things better than a good stick to hit things with or a good stone to throw in a river when you're three-and-a-half.

A really good stick
Some stones are so good you have to take them
with you until you find the perfect bit of water
Throwing stones in the water can be fun for every generation
  • Even three-and-a-half year olds can climb fells in the Lake District. LittleBear's fell might not have been quite as high as mine, and it might have taken more chocolate biscuits to get up his, but I think his was a more impressive achievement. Better yet, despite being so exhausted he was falling over by the end, he was still filled with enthusiasm and desperate to climb a "big, big mountain".
Holme Fell

Harrison Stickle

  • Keeping a diary is a wonderful thing. Back in the mists of time, when Tim Berners-Lee was still at primary school, my grandparents bought our cottage in the Lake District. And then they decided to start "The Log".  For my younger readers, who may not be aware of the possibilities afforded by writing things on paper, with a pen that you hold in your hand, this is a paper version of a blog - a (we)blog without the web. Every visitor to the cottage writes entries about their time there, and we're now on Volume 9. Sometimes it feels like a chore to remember to write The Log, but it is a wonderful thing to read - to look back at your own holidays, to read about the holidays of your parents and grandparents, to discover what other people did when they had small children with them. Sometimes the briefest entries can be the most telling. There is one day, when my brother and I were small, when my mother simply wrote, "Rain. Children horrible." Speaks volumes doesn't it? And the whole thing is a wonderful reminder that you can take all the photos that you want, but words are powerful things, and you'll never regret writing about the precious, fleeting moments of your life.
Here's a sample from Easter 1978, when I was the same age LittleBear is now. You'll note that I don't actually rate a mention at all...

My childhood holidays sound just awesome don't they?

  • It will be fine. I worry too much, I assume the worst, I take responsibility too much. We had a lovely holiday, and once again BigBear was right. He said it would all be fine. And it was. More than fine.

Everything being more than fine. With beer.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

In the dead zone

In case any of you were wondering about the deathly silence from me - I am currently without internet, without mobile reception, without television and without radio. Fortunately there are plenty of books so BigBear and I haven't actually had to resort to conversation or anything...

I'll be back on the grid next week.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Reasons my son is crying

For those who haven't seen it, there are some giggles to be had over at the Reasons My Son Is Crying website. I apologise for the lack of photographs of LittleBear crying, but here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons my son has cried in the past week:

  • He stood on my foot and I said "Ow!"
  • I said "I don't know" when he asked me (for the 53rd time) what his great white shark was going to say about 'that'. ('That' in this case being his selection of socks for the day)
  • His favourite shorts were in the wash and not available to wear.
  • I was unable to tell him exactly how long it would take to get home after nursery.
  • He didn't get to pour his own cup of milk. After watching me get out the cup, get out the milk, put the cup down in front of him, pour milk into it and put the milk away. And then he asked if he could pour. And then? "I will never, ever, ever get to pour my own milk ever, ever again" accompanied by wailing sobs.
  • David Attenborough said that the plankton were going to die (The Blue Planet).
  • David Tennant said the emperor penguin chicks would never see their parents again (Spy in the Huddle)
  • I took my shoes off before LittleBear took his shoes off.
  • I got to the bottom of the stairs before LittleBear.
  • The cat managed to squeeze through the front door ahead of LittleBear.
  • I said that he couldn't watch a second episode of The Blue Planet that day ("I will never, ever, ever be able to watch it ever, ever again")
  • I said it was bath-time ("I will never, ever, ever be able to play this game ever, ever again")
  • I said it was time to brush his teeth ("I will never, ever, ever play with lego ever, ever again")
  • We ran out of his favourite cereal ("I will never, ever, ever have Start ever, ever again") 
  • There are no dinosaurs alive any more for him to see.
  • Megalodon is not alive any more for him to see. 
  • I failed to remind his to look out of the car window to see the bridge. The same bridge we drive over twice a day, three times a week and have done for the past two and a half years. ("I will never, ever, ever see the little bridge ever, ever again")
  • It took a long time to get to CousinBear's house ("Are we ever going to get there?") To be fair, I was getting close to tears as the fourth hour of averaging 30mph ticked past, so I think I can forgive him this one.

I've had to add a new rule to the List of Rules - no saying "I will never..." about something that isn't true. It's driving me round the bend, really it is. But, that aside, I can't help thinking that it must be emotionally exhausting to be three. So very many things that are so very, very upsetting.

And then... I realised when I collected him from nursery and was met by a bouncing, happy, gleeful boy, that I was actually very lucky. Because he wasn't the little boy sitting, waiting by his peg, sobbing. The little boy who apparently cries whenever he sees a parent arrive to collect their child and it isn't his mother or father. The little boy who wouldn't accept cuddles and comfort from the carers because all he wanted was one of his own parents. Because I think that would destroy me.