#87: Stick a deckchair up your nose

I have a number of plates spinning at the moment, which makes for some eclectic juggling of priorities. Today the financial advisor called, to outline our various mortgaging possibilities. I found myself indisposed to take his call, as I was in the garage attempting to take a selfie with a child’s camping chair stuck up one nostril. Do other people have moments like this?
chair, nose
Can anyone guess what is coming next?

#83: Pitch an article for publication AND #84: Charge an eye watering fee for some work

I haven’t exactly done this solely by myself, but through a cunning partnership with a freelance journalist I seem to be contracted to Chat magazine to make a feature/nob of myself in a couple of months time.

I have made myself available for all manner of embarrassing photography, not least the water skiing endeavour, and for my troubles I am to be paid the princely sum of £100. (Eye watering? Not exactly! But since I am doing no other work at the moment I am not sure what else I can charge for! Suggestions welcome! And I did have to proactively ask for a fee, which I find near impossible to do, so it kind of ticks the box about raising the subject of cold hard cash.)

It doesn’t entirely replace a full time salary, and I doubt it will have huge impact on our mortgaging capability, but it is a beginning!

Onwards and upwards!

#82: Stay in bed for an entire day

I am immensely grateful to my quite brilliant husband for facilitating this. He has taken over my responsibilities admirably (indeed better than me, which is always disconcerting), and looked after me in my bed; all while executing a normal day’s work. While working from home, he has managed to supervise breakfast, ready the children, take them to school, pick them up again, and ferry our own plus 2 more 5 year olds to a soft play party and home again. Plus furnish me with food and water while I fester in my pit all day. Now if I had some sort of debilitating illness then it would kind of be expected… But to do all that just so that I can write a semi-amusing paragraph for my blog? Most people would have probably given me a brisk ‘f*** off’. Dave just shakes his head at the ridiculousness of his existence, and gets on with it.

Actually it was the children who brought me the breakfast. They were quite excited about it. In they trooped, armed variously with a cup of tea, a bowl of cereal and a cup of milk to pour on it. In return I have promised that on their 10th birthdays I will bring them their breakfast in bed. That seems far enough away that they may have mastered eating a breakfast without coating themselves and everything in a 2 metre radius with it.

I had a fairly productive morning doing some online chores, practicing the guitar, and reading a book. All very nice!

By lunch time though I was getting a bit stiff. And smelly. It had begun being gloriously decadent and relaxing and lazy. By 3pm it had become a little bit sweaty and unpleasant. I literally only got up to go to the toilet. I was unwashed, and unbrushed. Disgusting.

By 6pm I thought I could call the day done. I really couldn’t justify loafing idly any longer, once the children came home from their party. Also I was hungry, and I didn’t think calling for dinner in bed would go down at all well!

It is probably quite restorative, to do literally nothing for a day. But I had better not make a habit of it.

#79: Dog sit

This has been, frankly, a roasting pain in the arse. There is no other way to put it.

Dave is repeatedly disappointed by my insistence on filling up the house with unnecessary extra bodies that only serve to make our lives more difficult. First a pair of French 10 year olds, now 2 black Labradors. And I am afraid the Labradors are proving harder work.

They sleep in a cage at night. When I open it, everyone is bowled over by the frenzy of energy unleashed. I left them the first day to amuse themselves in the garden while the children ate breakfast. They were returned to me, by bemused neighbours, some minutes later, having presumably jumped the wall and been apprehended exploring the local area. Oops. Luckily order was restored without any harm done.

I am not helped by the fact that one child is terrified out of her wits by them. She cannot be in the same room with them, (or indeed house, or car, or street). So that is difficult, particularly when most of our internal doors do not actually shut. The other two girls are obsessively interested, and want to feed them, stroke them, walk them, pet them at all times. It is rather beyond me to manage everyone’s expectations.

The dogs are rarely satisfied, whatever we do. They are of necessity confined for much of the time, but this simply means that when released they are beside themselves with uncontainable excitement. They run off. They urinate on everything, including one another. They chase ducks, they swim in lakes, they pick fights with swans… they sniff the genitals of every other dog in the vicinity and wilfully ignore my calls to leave them alone. They eat turds with gusto. Then they run back to us, exuberantly, at great speed, and Caitlin screams in fear for her life.

Caitlin is crying whenever they are near us. Rosie is crying whenever they are not. She absolutely loves them. She hasn’t missed a minute of their stay. She was devastated that she couldn’t take them into her classroom. She has been walking them daily, morning and night. She does not complain of the distance. She was thrilled to be allowed to hold the lead.

It is at home though, that the dogs are at their most annoying. I cannot eat without a slobbering hound in my lap, sniffing at the plate. I cannot get up from my chair without both leaping optimistically to their feet, convinced that a treat is in store for them. Dave and I are prisoners on our own sofa, dogs asleep on the floor, neither of us daring to move for fear of shattering the peace and both of them charging around the house after us. It is really rather limiting.

Tonight they were excitable in a whole new way. One has been rolling around on the floor, while the other attempts to hump him. I have filmed them. The cinematography is poor but you get the idea. Large hounds, small room, plentiful sexual frustration.

The great plus though has been seeing how much (some of) the children have enjoyed looking after them. This weekend we took them with us with some trepidation to a 3-family sleepover, and the dogs were the most popular of all the guests, by a considerable margin! The kids were fighting over who got to walk them the furthest. (Apart from one who was quaking on Daddy’s shoulders). But apart from that it was nice!
kids and dogs
Anyway, job done. Much relief all round.

#74: Spend the night with a random Frenchman

This sounds more controversial than it was. It was actually a very charming Frenchman, plus his wife and family, in the context of a whole-family French exchange.

But still, it was no small matter, to take all the kids to a town we had never heard of, to stay with a family as yet unknown to us, and expect them to get on with it, with barely 10 words of French between them.

The first night, they managed to stay up until 10pm, mainly playing with the other English kids, but also some French. No one argued when it was eventually time to go to bed, and the grown ups stayed up to converse with our hosts, the wheels of sociability oiled most amicably with lashings of fine French wine. All was right with the world despite our fearsome journey. The hosts were nice. We could communicate. (In fact they were more than nice, they were utterly charming, hospitable, generous in the extreme…they literally couldn’t have done more to make our stay comfortable and enjoyable and everything we wanted it to be.)

And so, the next morning, I was somewhat concerned to find all my children so overwhelmed with shyness that they didn’t want to get up. In all their nearly 6 years of life I have never known breakfast to be delayed beyond 8am. Yet here they were, hiding under the duvet, saying they didn’t want any. This was bad.

But the sound of a television filtered through their gloom, and like mosquitos to a light source, they began to inch towards it. The elder boy Thomas had been inspired to put on an English cartoon, and no one could resist for very long.

A little later, an array of chocolate-based cereals were presented, along with a basket brimming with pain au chocolats, and the combination, along with the jus de pomme, proved irresistible. A far more contented trio arose from the table a half hour later.

We had a thoroughly pleasant couple of days, joining in with their family life, barbeque-ing in the garden, watching a kids football match; riding a random trio of ponies; playing games in the park; eating all manner of treats, cooking our own crepes…

By Sunday night, all our 5 kids were outside in the garden until darkness fell, building dens, climbing trees, chasing each other, shouting and laughing… International divide well and truly bridged.

By Monday, there were tears on leaving, homemade cards exchanged, avowing their love for one another, and plaintive requests to either stay forever, or bring the boys home with us. An astonishing turn of events! And a quite brilliant outcome, to a curious enterprise. Tremendous.

#71: Go on an organised coach trip

There are few modes of travel that fill me with more horror, than this. Trapped on a coach, possibly feeling slightly gip, with no control over any aspect of the journey, and 3 smallish children to keep entertained. The potential for trauma abounds.

But we had signed up for the French twinning trip, and everyone was going by coach. It seemed churlish not to join, and also would have meant a long drive for both of us, to end up in the same place. We weighed it all up, and booked on the coach.

The day dawned and we hustled the kids out of bed, arriving at the bus at 04.50am. And would you believe it, all the ruddy seats appeared to be taken. Apart from 2. And we are 5.

There was whispered consternation among the organisers – had they, perhaps, miscounted? I began to fear I would be travelling for 12 hours with a wriggling 5 year old in my lap. But no. Eventually a couple of people reluctantly revealed that the seats next to them were, actually, unoccupied. There were after all, upon very close inspection, 5 seats. Just not together. I would like to report at this point a multitude of kindly souls spotting our plight and offering up their seats…but alas that would not be an accurate report. I tried to persuade my sleepy 4 year old that it might be fun to sit on the backseat with the teenagers. She was not convinced. Nor was I!

In the end, we settled for a 2 and a 3 at the front and back of the bus respectively. It did not make for straightforward sharing of toys or picnics. But at least we were all seated.

The first leg of the journey was smooth and we arrived in Portsmouth at 06.40. We were not due to sail until 9.00. There was some muted questioning of the need to arise at 4am.

Then the ferry was calm and uneventful. The children were introduced to the joys of top trumps, and did an extensive amount of colouring. It is a point of principle and self torture that we travel without ever plugging them in to an electronic device. (Rosie recently reported that she had a friend, with a real television IN HER CAR!!! ‘In Real Life Mummy, she has!’ Dammit.)

In the end, we reached our destination at 19.00 hours French time, after a pretty thorough exploration of French service stations. Happily the French were ready for us, and eased our trauma with many a carafe of wine. Journey survived. On with the French adventure!

#70: Look after chickens

This has not been a hardship. The chickens are very little bother, and the children have been loving it. All through the Easter holidays we could fill any low points in a day by going to see the chickens.

After the first couple of days we got braver, and allowed them to leave their coop. Eva assured me she could catch them again. And indeed she could, catch one of them. Carrot, the inexplicably named white chicken, is extremely placid and allows herself to be picked up and manhandled with the tolerance of a very benign bunny rabbit. Her compatriot in the coop, whose name sadly we forget, and who is therefore known to us only as ‘the black one’ is altogether more wily. She requires two of us approaching her in a pincer movement, and pouncing, and even then it takes considerable time to entice her out of the shrubbery. They are both delighted to eat grass rather than chicken feed. The designated food is barely touched, day after day.

Even so, we go through the ritual of topping it up, collecting the eggs, replenishing the water, letting them out for some exercise, and catching them again. Doing these things in the wrong order has resulted in a number of eggs being smashed on the ground. But no matter. The entertainment is worth far more than the eggs.
eva and carrot
Based on current experience I have no objection to chickens as a household pet. Possibly there is more to it if they are actually your own chickens. But they are certainly winning in the contest over dogs (see ‘Dog sit’ post, coming soon. Oof).

#69: Take the children to a roller disco

I put this on the list because I cannot think of many environments less appealing to enter than this. Noisy, dark, fast moving, requiring physical coordination, and crawling with excitable squealing children, on wheels, in a confined space, that I would then be unable to leave, until the bitter end. To compound my horror, my sister in law had found one that we could go to, at lunch time, on one of the most gloriously hot and sunny days of the year so far. Ideal!

So I went with extraordinarily low expectations. And was pleasantly surprised! In many ways the event was every bit as awful as I imagined, but there was a surprising amount of pleasure in it nonetheless. We took my 3 daughters and 2 nieces, all aged from 4-6, and they managed startlingly well!

The first round was challenging, due to the incompetence of our entire party. We stumbled and fell and dropped one another, and bumped into people, and took out small children by mistake. But with each circuit, there was a marked improvement.

Basically a disco is blaring, and lights are flashing, but you can still see pretty clearly due to the daylight flooding in through every window. Everyone skates round the edge of the sports hall, all in the same direction, (a worthwhile precaution, though collisions were still frequent). There were kids from about 4 up to teens, boys and girls, some with kit that suggested they were regulars – flashing skates, legwarmers and the like. My children were all in the wrong style of skate, with knee and elbow pads and helmets on, all of which betrayed a certain lack of experience.
children roller disco
I wish I had words or video to convey the hilarity of Rosie’s movement around the hall. Her legs were going back and forth as if she were running for dear life, yet she moved forwards barely at all. But she went round and round and round, hardly stopping in the whole hour and a half. Desperately trying to catch up with her older cousin, but being lapped, time and time again.

The youngest niece was like a newborn foal on wheels, if you can picture such a thing – a mass of limbs in all directions, but she didn’t seem troubled by it!

And of course I had to have a go myself. And doing that actually gave me a new respect for my children. Because it was a little bit scary, to find myself out of control, in a roomful of people, looking like a prize knob, and unable to propel myself where or how I wanted! I was wobbly and crap and fell over and it was all rather difficult! and not at all pretty!
me at roller discoAnd I thought, I am doing this once, in a deliberate attempt to challenge myself, which is of my own choosing, and afterwards I’m going to need a good sit down with a cup of tea to get myself together again. Yet I put the kids in this situation 4 or 5 times most days, of being pressured to try a thing that they don’t think they can do. Try this climbing frame (higher than you are comfortable with), walk this dog (even though you are scared of them), read this book (full of words you don’t know), say thank you to this person (who you are terrified to address), say something in French (when you are plainly intimidated), play with this child (who you have never met before)…. And they have no choice, and 9 times out of 10 they do just get on with it. And each time the attempt goes wrong they have to bounce back from it instantly, only to get hit with something else. No wonder they are exhausted by tea time most days! Respect!

#68: Go rowing

This was suggested by a friend, who assured me that if I came to her rowing club on a Saturday morning, I could be assured of exiting my comfort zone, in a good way. I assumed from that that it would be a thoroughly good work out. I was up for that. And indeed genuinely interested, I was actually thinking that rowing might be something I took up, for more than the one session.

The reality was anything but what I expected. For starters, my internet search, it turned out, referred me to the wrong rowing club. I didn’t realise until I checked the website a few minutes before leaving for the session. By then I had committed, via an email exchange with the membership secretary.

So I found myself on one of the lakes of Cotswold Water Park, at 9.45 on a Saturday morning, looking for signs of the rowing club. I asked a chap who was hanging around some boats, and he identified himself as the club captain. What a stroke of luck. Then I met the membership secretary, with whom I had corresponded. Then I met the Chairman! The big names were all in evidence. Everyone was friendly, though perhaps somewhat male, and aged. I looked in all directions for the rest of the membership. There was no sign. We chatted of this and that, and the gentlemen introduced me to their various boats. They explained the learning process, and all manner of terminology. A plan for my session was formed. In the end though I had to ask, ‘Does anyone else come?’ They rattled off a handful of names (all male). At its height, apparently, this club had as many as 12 members! Several however were sighted but rarely. And a couple of them were sufficiently advanced in years that they did not often take to a vessel these days.

I had imagined an assortment of lively folk, my friend among them, all sharing boats and organising themselves into 4s and 8s, a cacophony of boating enthusiasm to get caught up in. Instead, I was emptying water out of a rusty looking tub with 2 old men.

I also hadn’t really imagined that rowing would be very difficult. I don’t know why. I thought that the challenge of it was that it was hard physical work, and perhaps it was tricky to keep in time with the other rowers. It had never occurred to me that there was a skill to be learnt in actual rowing technique, or in keeping the boat upright. Yet there I was, sitting in a boat that a tsunami couldn’t capsize, with one-on-one instruction for an hour and a half, and I still couldn’t get the movements right. Oh dear. If I actually got in a proper rowing boat I’d be in the water in seconds. Thankfully that wasn’t on the cards for my first session.
I was relieved and surprised that it didn’t involve getting wet at all. I wore the same kit that I wear biking! And that was fine. But it was still a bit cold once we were out in the middle of the lake.

It was all really very surprising. Rather less fun than I expected in truth, less people, less banter, more difficulty, and far more of a learning curve if I did decide to take it up. And yet astonishing generosity from the people I did meet – the chap I went out with spent the whole morning doing nothing but tutor me, with no agenda other than to help.

Once again I am astonished at strangers’ generosity in helping me to do all these random things. But even so, I suspect that that one will remain in the realms of a one-off. Unless I ever do find the right rowing club!