Monday, 25 July 2016

Tour de Histon

LittleBear has developed a new and whole-hearted obsession with the Tour de France. This may have something to do with his parents' obsession with the Tour. Somewhat surprisingly, he seems to have decided on this occasion "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em", instead of insisting that dinosaurs are infinitely more interesting than whatever it is one of us wants to do. So we are making the most of this enthusiasm for cycling by actually getting to watch some of the race live.

Yesterday morning, we needed to take a quick trip to the shops, and so naturally out came the bicycles, and from then on LittleBear maintained an almost non-stop commentary...

"There's been a breakaway... Geraint Thomas is in the lead, and we're following him. We're a second breakaway, and we're on the Sky team with Geraint Thomas, and we're going to catch up with him and help him. The peloton are 4 minutes behind us at the moment... we've nearly caught Geraint Thomas now, but there's been another breakaway from the front of the peloton! <whispered aside> who rides in yellowy-green Mummy?"


"There's a Tinkoff rider and another Sky rider in another breakaway behind us, so we'll have to go faster! Chris Froome is the middle of the peloton today, I think Geraint Thomas is going to win today."

Permutations of this were repeated throughout the ride to the Co-op, where we stopped "for a wee break, and the peloton aren't allowed to try and overtake while we're having a wee break". Actually we were stopping to acquire chocolate swiss roll and cucumber, but those aren't recognised features of a Tour de France stage, so we had to extemporise. And then we were off again...
"We're level with Geraint Thomas now, and the peloton have caught up with the Tinkoff rider, so I think we're going to win today's stage"

And so it went, all the way back home. We even climbed "an Alp" on the way. For those not familiar with the extraordinary flatness of our home village, I should point out that this "Alp" involved an ascent of approximately 4 metres. Yes, that far. But we made it home, with a final sprint for the line, apparently coming in 15 minutes ahead of the peloton.

The entire escapade was so entertaining that we had to do it all, but further, in the afternoon, with Daddy being nominated to the role of Chris Froome, and Richie Porte of BMC being the rider threatening to overtake us. LittleBear's little legs rode like fury, whizzing round to power him to front of the breakaway again. And, on what passes for downhill round these parts, he lay his torso horizontally to adopt a downhill-racer streamlined position. But he didn't stop the incessant narration. In fact, he barely paused for breath, except when we stopped to consume the contents of our musette, at which point the glugging of most of a bottle of water temporarily silenced him.

Our total for the day was 5.4 miles. And LittleBear now declares that very soon he will be able to ride 10 miles. And that when he's bigger he will ride in the real Tour de France, because he's already a better cyclist than Mummy. I don't know if it's a child-thing or a being-related-to-me-thing of just a LittleBear-thing, but I love the way he throws himself utterly and completely into each new obsession. And he absorbs all the information that passes his way, filing it all away in his head for later use. So, though it was last week sometime that we watched a ferocious descent on the Tour and explained why the riders were all leaning so far forwards, LittleBear had stored that away and made use of it, trying to go as fast as possible.

Knowing LittleBear, I suspect that the Tour de Histon is going to last considerably longer than the Tour de France. In fact, I suspect the time will come when I will deeply regret ever letting LittleBear even know of the existence of Le Tour. For now though, it's pretty adorable.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Repeating myself

Since LittleBear starts school this September <gulp> and he doesn't really know many people from his new school yet, it seemed a kind idea to try and help him get to know a few. And, handily enough, I know quite a few of the mothers of his future school mates*. So inviting a bunch of people round for a weekend lunch in the garden seemed like a good idea. I could even traumatise my poor, introverted husband and cat by inflicting social interactions with strangers upon them. In the end, only the cat left home for the day.

By my final reckoning, I think we had 9 adults and 7 children for lunch today, and despite my fears, the carpet was largely bare of lego and cat hair before they all arrived. And largely covered in lego when they left. And I was very proud of my LittleBear for allowing so many other children to play with his toys without upset. He drew the line at letting them play with his Arctic Lego.

There was only one insane water fight in the garden, no tantrums, no tears, no thrown food, no vomitting, and only one child relieved himself in the middle of the lawn (and he's 2, so entirely at liberty to do such things. Though the cat is currently regarding that particular patch of lawn with grave suspicion)

I had been going to write about the process of getting ready for a party, and being proud of myself for not turning into a total stress bunny, the way I normally would, and how I just allowed myself to wing it, and that this is major progress for me. And then I realised that this is something I've written about before.** Which rather suggests that I've already managed to chill out, notice that I've chilled out, and write about it. And yet my perception of myself doesn't seem to have caught up with reality, and I still think of myself as a stress-monster who freaks out, over-thinks everything and lies awake panicking about anything and everything. Actually, I am all of those things, but I'm also vaguely competent and seem to have mastered some aspects of life without disintegrating into a soggy puddle. I wonder whether if I practice I might become competent at some other aspects of life too? Not that being reasonably ept at having a garden party isn't a good skill to have, but using a telephone might be helpful too, or communicating with workmen, or speaking to new people, or learning that the whole world is not my fault or responsibility...

* This comes about because, back when LittleBear was too small too really make friends or actually know people, we went to a LOT of mother-and-baby and mother-and-toddler groups. So I met a lot of mothers, and in theory he met a lot of children. Since he hasn't been to most of those groups in at least two years, he can be forgiven for having forgotten most of the children. Meanwhile, thanks to Facebook and a new regime of Pub Mums I still know many of the mothers.

** One of the best parts of re-reading that particular blog entry, is that I clearly use the same technique for winning the hearts and minds of small children every year - I give them ice-cream cones. And they respond by sitting in a happy line along the edge of the summer house.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Never quite how you imagine it

This weekend, LittleBear, GrannyBear and I are staying in the south-west, to allow us to visit the BrotherBear and his family (largely for BrotherBear's own small boy's birthday party). And having lost all organisational skills, I failed to arrange a handy self-catering property for the weekend before they were all fully booked. So instead we're living in the lap of luxury in a Hilton hotel with a Marco Pierre White restaurant.

One of the things LittleBear was looking forward to more than anything was the chance to share a big bed with Mummy. He's done so before, usually when beset by illness or nightmares, and it's always been something I've secretly rather relished, to have my warm and lovely boy safe with me, and I didn't envisage this being any different. Oh, foolish me.

This is how I imagined we would sleep:
How Things Should Be

This is how things have been before. It seemed so simple.

Instead, we moved through a variety of permutations during the night:

Not very comfortable

Slightly more comfortable

Rather off-putting

Actually in need of rescuing

Most of those variations could be enacted either under or over the covers, which kept me on my toes. Or, more to the point, kept me fairly thoroughly awake. To my surprise (and relief) LittleBear appeared able to shift through this entertaining range of positions without waking up at all. Though by the time he did actually wake for the day at 6am, I did my best to pretend he wasn't awake until nearly 7, because I was virtually catatonic.

Perfect time to go for a run.

Having rashly committed to the ridiculous aim of running a 10km in Rochdale in September, I am now committed to running three times a week and gradually upping my distance. I knew I wouldn't have another chance this weekend, so before breakfast it was. At least I got a reprieve from pre-breakfast lego (sorry GrannyBear!) I'll say one thing for a pre-breakfast run in the rain, up hill, after a night of inadequate sleep... breakfast is absolutely AWESOME after that. Breakfast as served in a Marco Pierre White restaurant is doubly awesome. Even GrannyBear, who normally eats marginally less food than my idiot cat, had three courses of breakfast. And LittleBear packed away enough for at least three small boys. We like it here.

Thursday, 14 July 2016


My whimsy has wondered off.

My flippancy has flopped.

My joie de vivre has joined the choir invisible.

My silliness is silent.

My humour has the hump.

My panache has panicked.

My wit has whimpered.

My mirth is moribund.

My fun has foundered.

My jollity has jumped ship.

My bon mots have buggered off.

My comedy has collapsed.

My effervescence has evaporated. 

In short, I'm finding it hard to write anything other than self-pity or grumpiness. Or political ranting, and it's becoming clear we've all had enough of that. I can't even raise enough oomph to comment on the fact that we now have Boris Bloody Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Mild hysteria perhaps, interspersed with gentle weeping.

I'm fairly certain LittleBear is still as endearing and as ripe for comedic anecdote as ever. It's probable that work is still giving rise to extraordinary moments of comedy gold. I just can't see it, or write about it at the moment. Maybe I'll get my my inspiration to write back again. I hope so, but don't be surprised if I'm quiet for a while.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

A holiday to look forward to

A preface:
To the members of my family who read this. I am tired, and pissed off today. I still love you all though. And mostly don't begrudge you anything.

The truly dedicated, or stalkerish, amongst my readership will recall a certain amount of Stress and Drama last year as I attempted to have a bedroom at our family holiday cottage decorated, while living 250 miles away. It was enormously stressful, but it did all turn out OK in the end. I have just re-read my words about it all turning out OK in the end, because right now, I need to try and hold on to that thought.

The upshot of the entire decorating saga was that the room ended up looking lovely. Apparently. I still haven't seen it. And I'm not going to either, because it has already been trashed. This winter, during the epic rains that flooded vast areas of the north-west, water was driven in through the slate walls, under the eaves and beneath the roof slates. And whither goest the rain, groweth the mould:

Under the slates and down the side of the chimney

Straight through the wall

Youngest BearCousin found this state of things when he paused overnight en route to Scotland, so he was unable to do anything about it. Nor was he able to do anything about the discovery that there's a leak in the bathroom plumbing. Fortunately we leave the mains water turned off when the cottage is empty, so there isn't a knee-deep flood in the bathroom now, but when the water is turned back on, the leak will recommence.

There had been a vague plan to get a plumber to visit as soon as possible, but that seems to have fallen by the wayside, and I've now been informed that there is no plan. Since I'm the next person to go to the cottage, this strikes me as A Little Bit Unhelpful. I will be arriving with only LittleBear after driving 250 miles single-handed. I don't need a leaking bathroom. But apparently I can just make sure I only turn the mains water stopcock on when I need water. Yay.

There is also a more general plan to have the mould and damp affected sections of the bedroom repapered and painted. We are unanimous in thinking that it would unwise to simply have the paper stripped, replaced and re-painted without making more sterling efforts to kill any mould spores*. So instead of calling Jonty the Ever Helpful Decorator to come and deal with it, the next person to go will strip the damaged wallpaper, and treat the walls with something appropriately anti-fungal. Who is the next person to go? Oh yes, that would be me...

I have also (helpfully) been told that the curtains that I agonised over are too long. They're not, but Jonty the Ever Helpful Decorator did not put the curtain rail at the height I requested. And though they've been up for a year, nobody has done anything about the unsatisfactory length.

I've pretty much given up on the cushions I was making to match the curtains. I mean, really, what the fuck is the point?

Packing for the holiday is now looking like a barrel of laughs - in addition to the usual collection of clothes, bedding, towels, books, games, boots, waterproofs, food, drink etc I will also be taking a steamer, wallpaper scrapers, stanley knife, exciting anti-fungal chemicals, toolbox, plumbing spares and a sewing machine.

For the first week of the holiday, I will be sharing a mouldy bedroom with LittleBear, while Tigger and her family occupy the other (hopefully healthier) bedrooms. For the second week of the holiday, I will be sharing a mouldy bedroom with BigBear while GrannyBear and LittleBear argue over the other bedrooms. At some point in this "holiday" I will be attempting to sort out all the things that are wrong. And probably spring-cleaning, weeding, removing moss from the flagstones, polishing the silver, and the other 101 tasks that need doing every year.

It would be fair to say, I'm not enormously looking forward to some aspects of this holiday. The mould and the leaking plumbing aspects mostly. But it's OK isn't it? This is the price we pay for owning a holiday cottage in one of the most beautiful parts of the country isn't it? We all pull our weight and contribute to the upkeep as part of the cost of ownership. Except my family has not yet left the 19th century, and the cottage is in fact owned by the two eldest sons on each side of the family**. I do not have, and never will have, any ownership of it. And I only have the assured goodwill of BrotherBear and CousinBear that "we're all in this together". Best not fall out with either of them had I?

On the plus side... both the photographs at the top of this page were taken on holidays to our cottage. And it all turned out fine last year. Repeat after me... it all turned out fine... it all turned out fine... it all turned out fine...

* There's an even more substantial plan that involves having the rear, weather-facing, wall of the cottage rendered and weatherproofed to prevent the rain driving in again.

** Once upon a time there were two sisters, each of whom received a half share in a cottage from their parents. The elder sister had two children, and the younger sister had three. When the time came, despite both having degrees in science, it was apparently "too complicated" to divide one half into a further two halves, and the other half into thirds, resulting in a quarter, quarter, sixth, sixth, sixth division. It was also "too complicated" to merge the two halves and then divide it into equal fifths. So each sister gifted her share in the cottage to her eldest son. I am neither the eldest, nor a son.


Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Where are my keys?

In cliche-ridden form, I am turning into my mother. It is an abiding memory from my childhood that my mother could never find her keys in her handbag, and she would curse and grumble that the damned things always sank to the bottom and hid from her.

And now I find myself doing the same. How is it possible, in a not-particularly-capacious handbag, to never be able to find my keys? So I decided to undertake a spot-check on the contents of my handbag.

I would like the jury to take into account that this bag is only approximately 25cm x 25cm. I would also like the jury to consider the fact that this snapshot of contents takes place on a day when I have been at work, and have not needed to go anywhere with LittleBear. In light of these two facts, I can reveal that my handbag contains:

A wallet

A mobile phone (in a luminous green pouch, because otherwise it is completely invisible)

A bottle of water (belonging to LittleBear)

The remains of a packet of Cadbury's mini eggs (for emergency bribery)

A small packet of wet wipes

A packet of animal-print plasters

A tube of bonjela

A lip-salve

Three pens, of which only one works

A comb

A swiss army knife

That irritating plastic widget that looks like a calculator but is actually to let me log on to my internet banking.

An over-sized safety pin (nope, no idea)

A USB memory stick and "on-the-go" cable (because you never know when you might need an extra 32GB of memory for a mobile device...)

A small cuddly bunny

A used handkerchief

A tube of mascara that I don't remember owning

A set of house keys

A car key

Quite frankly it's beginning to look like a miracle that I ever find my keys, rather than a surprise that they're occasionally AWOL. And it's a good thing I have understanding colleagues as I stand in the middle of the office, literally pulling rabbits out of my bag, while I hunt for my car key to go home.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Emotionally fragile

I'm feeling...





...over it.

A storm of things has been happening in my head, and it's taken my head to a Bad Place. I feel myself sinking into a place I don't want to be. It is dark in that place, and lonely, and filled with tears, and un-named, un-nameable fear.

The astute among you will have spotted that the referendum result, and consequent Bloody Awful Fallout has left me filled with rage, fear and distress. These are not good emotions on which to be surviving. And it is that whole ridiculous, shambolic, political debacle that has triggered a serious return of anxiety.

I couldn't really work out why it was anxiety of all things that was returning after the referendum. But my hands have been shaking, I feel nauseous, I burst into tears at unpredictable and inopportune moments, my chest tightens, and I am paralysed into inaction when confronted with the thought of interacting with other human beings beyond my immediate social circle. Meanwhile, apathy has overtaken me, such that I fail to do the laundry, fail to clean the house, fail to tidy anything away at the end of the day, fail to weed the (overgrown) garden, fail to phone the workmen who need phoning, fail to plan or cook any proper meals.

It's taken me a while to pin down why, amongst all the things that are going on in my life, it is the vote to leave the EU that has triggered this. And I realise it's all to do with my terrible fear of conflict. I am quite capable of writing a wild polemic on whatever subject happens to have riled me. But I find expressing those views face-to-face terrifies me. I don't like arguing. I don't like people disagreeing. And now that it's become clear how deep the differences run in the country* I fear actually having to face that conflict in person. I'm in fight-or-flight mode - fearing a confrontation that will almost certainly never happen, but desperate to run away from it anyway, just in case. And that far of conflict is fuelled every time I read a newspaper or a comment thread on Facebook and see people haranguing each other. The conflict is all laid bare.

And I'm still deeply, deeply upset about the outcome of the referendum, about the future we are making for my beautiful boy, about the implications for our savings, jobs, pensions, families.

On the plus side, I went out on Friday night. To the cinema with Piglet. We both needed some down time, something light-hearted, something to take our minds off politics and children and housework and jobs.

I wept in the car all the way home from the film. It was a film about fear of aging. About the mistakes that parents make when they try to do their best not to repeat their own parents' mistakes. About an awkward, shy girl, forced to stand on stage and do that which she feared most in a desperate attempt to regain that which she loved most. About a mother telling her daughter she loved her only to be confronted with a blank gaze in response. And another mother manipulating her daughter by declaring her love, when it was the very last thing she'd ever felt for her own child. It was heartbreaking.

So why did I go to something so maudlin when I needed cheering up? I didn't. I went to watch Absolutely Fabulous. But I still wept.

I told you I was emotionally fragile.

* Except with BrotherBear, who declares himself "pretty ambivalent actually" on the subject of Remain vs Leave. Though he did vote Remain, which means I don't have to disown him.