she called me a mensch

“Do you even know what that means?” she asks.

I’m on the phone to one of my good friends, staring blankly at displays of cards: on my way to post my mother’s 70th birthday present, I am suddenly stricken by anxiety over whether she will want a card saying 70 (“Oh god! Did you really need to remind me?!!”) versus cards that don’t say 70 (it’s a special birthday … will keeping it low-key be construed as a being dismissive/ uncaring?)

“It’s like a schmuck, isn’t it?” I ask, absently, picking up and putting down another card. “Or that woman who moved to New York and discovered the power of the pedicure?”

“No,” says my friend, firmly. “It’s a good, solid, dependable person. Someone who’s just there. You’re so there. You’re always there for me.”

I’m slightly stunned. All I’ve done is make sure she has a place to bring her kids for dinner over the course of the next few weeks: she’s having building work done, and her partner is away. And I am a schmuck – I’m still stressing over the frickin’ card.

I found a card eventually. Even made it to the post office. All of that felt good. But someone telling me that they could count on me, hot on the heels of a period of time where, as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve had to think about who I can count on felt (in the interests of keeping it Germanic) über gut.

 

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she ran with me

We had some of our favouritest friends coming over yesterday afternoon. They’ve got three children too, so, with a total of six children to consider, you sort of want to have all of the food prep in hand before they arrive; even if the kids don’t require your undivided attention, it’s nice to just be able swig on a drink and chat, without wielding a chopping knife in one of your hands.

So. I’d made Nigel Slater’s chocolate & beetroot cake the previous day, thus using up some beetroots that were languishing, near death, in the fridge, before we go away on holiday (I am fanatical about ‘using up before going away’, perhaps the more so because of the time that we returned from France to discover the aftermath of a power cut in the fridge. Mon Dieu, the smell…) Since preparation is everything, I was also canny enough to make the cake exactly as Mr Slater decrees, ie no paleo tweaks to make it even vaguely edible for me. Like I said, we are going on holiday. There will be the wearing of swimming costumes.

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

pureed beetroot, ready to be folded into the chocolatey mixture

We decided on pulled pork on soft floury baps with coleslaw: again, all easy to do before anyone arrived (and all stuff that I’d not even countenance eating. Do I need to I remind you? Holiday. Sun. Fewer clothes.) So, once the pork was doused in cider and slow cooking in the oven, and the cabbage and carrot were shredded and resting, there was little to do except deal with the children asking “When will they be here? When are they coming?!”

Annoying. So: bikes in the back of the car and off to the park we went. I run pretty much every day: it’s vital to my state of mind. But when you have a family, you have to tailor your runs to whatever else is going on; I can’t, in all fairness, be off on a long run on a weekend when my husband’s been working all week and the kids are desperate for us to ‘all be together’ – even less so when there’s a shoulder of pork on the go in the oven.

I wore my running kit anyway; what the heck, the kids are bike-competent enough now that I’d be able to at least jog, if not run, as they rode. It was better than nothing. And, you know, there’s that holiday thing next week.

We got to Dulwich Park and whaddaya know, a fair was in residence. As fairs go, it didn’t look too bad; certainly not along the lines of the ones that my poor friend Steph was subjected to this weekend but, FFS, I did not go to the park so that my kids could spunk their college funds on rides and hot dogs: I went so that they could get fresh air and exercise, goddamit. I went so that they could bike-ride and I could run! I went so that they’d stop bugging me (When will they be here?) – not bug me more! (Can we go on a ride? can we? can we? CAN WE???!!)

Pushy mother, moi? Well, yes. But I am Australian. So it’s okay, right? Besides, it’s an Ashes year. My competitive juices are already rising.

Compromise: once around the park on bikes and then Daddy will take you to the fair while Mummy runs.

When I got back to them, there was dissatisfaction in the ranks (of course!) They wanted another ride (of course!!) on the Ferris Wheel but it was 3 people per carriage and at least one adult to accompany children required. So they couldn’t go on it without me.

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But then my husband discovered that he’d already pretty much ploughed through the college fund spare change already, and could only afford three of the £2.50 (!!) seats.

Suddenly, my daughter piped up. “I don’t want to go on the ride. I want to run with Mummy.”

Truly, I know it’s a fine line: inflicting my own issues surrounding food, physique and exercise on my daughter on the one hand, and guiding her, joyfully, in the love of health, nutrition and exercise on the other. I am not about to buy her running kit or get her out of bed to do sixty sit-ups before school. She is beautiful and perfect, but I shy away from harping on this because I don’t ever want her to feel that she’ll be unloved when her beauty and perfection starts, as it inevitably will, to change. I tell her she is healthy, she is strong, she is lovely. I tell her she sparkles. She does.

But I was delighted that she wanted to run with me; and that she wanted to do so more than she wanted to ride on the sodding poxy Ferris Wheel.

So, we ran. Or jogged. Whatever. It was a peach of a day, and there was no need to hurry: just me and my girl sucking up the sunshine and the blazing rhododendrons and wondering whether the boys and Daddy could see us from the top of the Ferris Wheel? And still the joy and expectation of friends, and pork, and cake, to look forward to in the afternoon.

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

Dulwich Park rhododendrons

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I’ll be an old lady one day

I’m sure there was – I know there was – a time when the thought was horrible, unthinkable. But I’m coming ’round to it. I’ve seen some cracking role models lately; just today, there were three who made me impatient for the “I’m too old to piss around with niceties” of Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.

It’s entirely possible that one of them may have been totally oblivious to the fabulousness of her inappropriateness. “Ooooh, what a lovely knob!!” she cooed, fondling a doorknob in a charity shop. “It looks so… It feels so…. I only wish I had a use for it.”

I’m puerile, I know I am. But oh, how I snorted into the book I was perusing.

And then there was the lady behind the counter of the same shop. Her daughter is getting married in three weeks. Three weeks!!! Does she have an outfit yet? No, she does not. Because when her son got married last year, she sorted her entire wedding outfit from charity shop stock. And is assuming she’ll be as lucky this time!! Oh la la. Can you imagine leaving the sartorial side of such an occasion to chance?? I definitely, definitely can’t. But the idea that maybe I will, someday, is delicious.

But best, best of all, was the lady in the Co-Op, as I queued up to pay for rocket and watercress and a few more items with more than a hint of ponce to flavour them. She was ahead of me in the queue, shockingly dressed in mauve duvet coat with matching lace up boots, accessorised with (heaven help me) a hair net, thick specs, binoculars and a rucksack. There are plenty of twitchers in this part of the world but even so, dear lord, that hairnet. My mum has this thing: “Please kids, don’t ever let me go out wearing half-hose.” I get it, and I wouldn’t; I won’t. And I’d never let her go out in a hairnet either. But then, today, this lady. ..

“Bottle of Courvoisier, thank you,” she said briskly when she reached the service desk.

“Small?” asked the assistant, her hand already on the hip flask.

The look! The look from behind those bullet-proof bifocals could’ve castrated a rugby pro. “No, large. Large!” she barked.

I was right behind her as she exited, on foot, the carpark. For me, it was back to the car where my ever present thermos of warming tea awaited. For her, from the looks of it, a march across the cliffs and – sod the tea – several warming swigs of cognac. Who knows if the binoculars were even for looking at birds or for checking out surf hottties?

When I’m old, I reckon I’ll wear purple. I hope I’ll drink a lot, and make inappropriate observations, care less about what I wear, and how I look. I really, really hope I’ll speak scathingly to people I’m now, reluctantly, polite to.

But I can’t, in all honesty, hope that I’ll don a hairnet.

I bought my grandma roses

It’s 64 years today since my grandmother died. Obviously this means that I never met her, but she’s still been, in various ways, a big part of my life, not least because growing up without a mother impacted on my mother; understandably, she dreamed of the kind of mother she’d have liked to’ve had and ultimately, set out to be that sort of mother herself. She wanted to do things – shopping, theatre, meals out – with her daughters that her own mother wasn’t able to do with her (unfortunately she doesn’t seem to have been too bothered that her own mother never taught her about good makeup application, completely bypassing this crucial skill in all of her mother-daughter bonding with me, which is why, I think, I will never be the picture of polished perfection that I once – can’t be bothered to worry about it now – aspired to be)

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Unsurprisingly, my mother knows very little about her mum. But, from what little she does know, there are three standout points for me: she was a voracious reader, she liked shoes, and roses were her favourite flowers.

So, today I bought roses for Grandma Meg. I would also have worn lovely shoes, except that the blizzardy, diabolical weather made it impossible, so instead, I shall upload some pictures of some of my current wishlist/ wardrobe favourite pairs. And then I will go and read a chapter or two of my book, The Service of Clouds by Australian author Delia Falconer – (which, completely coincidentally, involves a patient dying of TB, the disease from which my grandmother died), before bed.

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Zara monochrome shoes, £39.99

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Zara silver studded heels, £39.99

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Dune colour block wedges £75.00

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Perspex-heeled shoe boots from ASOS, £60

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bright perpsex-heeled sandals from ASOS, now £26. Must confess these are in my wardrobe rather than on my wishlist.

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Sam Edelman flat sandals. Again, these have moved from wishlist to wardrobe

I hope my mum’s day has been peaceful and sunny, and I hope that she knows that losing her own mum, tragic and before-time as it was, makes her three kids appreciate all the more everything that she’s done for us. Being good at something that you had no teacher or role model for is pretty special, really, isn’t it?

Mum & Queen Victoria at London's National Portrait Gallery. Two great ladies!

Mum & Queen Victoria at London’s National Portrait Gallery. Two great ladies!

I have a houseful of children

There’s something quite nice about the fact that there are five, rather than the usual three, children asleep downstairs – not least the fact that the so-called ‘usual three’ are so chuffed and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that they are all, in fact, actually asleep.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in a household that was massively big on parties and entertaining, or maybe it’s just because I don’t fancy my own company 😉 but few things please me more than to have my house full of people (with certain exceptions as to who those people are, of course, but this surely goes without saying). So with my husband abroad for work again, we filled our Saturday evening with two of my girlfriends and four (they have five between them) of their children. I poached two whole chickens in my vast stockpot (which means risotto and soup on tap for the rest of the week) and served it, bones removed (the flesh just slides off with a poached chicken, very easy and succulent) with a load of roasties and veg. I rarely expect children to eat much when they’re en masse and excited, but they demolished the lot. Chocolate meringues from a recipe on Annalise’s Completely Delicious blog with strawberries and ice cream for dessert, and then they were in their PJs and watching Peter Pan while we had a chat, a chicken salad and a glass of fizz.

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When it was time for the two youngest of the gang to go to bed, their mums took them home and I ushered the remaining five upstairs with promises of a midnight feast if they all behaved and kept jumping/ screeching to a minimum. Virtual silence reigned throughout the entire time I was clearing up (of course, the dishwasher would go on the blink today, wouldn’t it?) and putting together paper bags of Pom Bears, raisins, biscuits and marshmallows – to the extent that I thought a) ‘Jeez, I hope they’re not being this good because they think that they’re getting some Wonka-style treat bag, or else they’re going to be sadly disappointed’ and b) ‘Good grief, are they asleep already?!!’ I crept up the stairs. No, not asleep, but all engaged in the very serious business of colouring in. And – get this – they all brought their empty bags back down to me when they were done with feasting. One of them even came down to ask for a serviette to avoid dropping crumbs! And they were all asleep by just after 10pm. They’ve been so blimmin’ good, it’s unbelievable.

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There’s got to be a rub though. Surely! There’s got to be! As much as I love a bustling house, five children are not meant to be this easy, much less this pleasant! On which note: I’d better get to sleep. I’m bound to have a bunch of whining ratbags on my hands in the morning.

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so many nice things happened

I don’t mean to sound trite, but truly it was a good day – lots of little things that combined and expanded to even more than the sum of their parts to make me beam. Everyone cooperating this morning and us getting to school, on time and stressless-ly. The sun coming out. Meeting my friend in Covent Garden. Puzzling over a levitating Yoda street performer. Having someone confide in me, in a way that made me feel not only touched and honoured, but also immensely proud of them. Having a lady tell me, flatteringly, that she was buying a pair of Gap shorts on the strength of having seen me try them on. Trying on lots more gorgeous things, and perhaps buying one or two of them. Seeing my friend try, and subsequently buy, a leather jacket in Massimo Dutti that was swoonsome enough on the hanger but instantly transformed to 10x that when she put it on. Having a virtual stranger think of me in relation to what sounds like a totally covetable role as a writer for Harrods.

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In the midst of these lovely days, I often feel a pang, a twinge of maternal guilt, about the fact that my children are off at school and nursery; that my relaxed days with them are now few and far between, and my role with them far more Chief Bossy Boots/ Nag than Chief of Fun & Entertainment. So how lovely was it to get to nursery and behold my youngest’s chubby hand laid trustingly on the knee of his teacher, his shining face looking eagerly into hers as she told them, with her usual energy and enthusiasm, what sounded like a completely bonkers version of Goldilocks. Rapt and totally engaged; how good is it to know that your child is so joyful and secure in the place where you leave him while you venture off and have some off-duty enjoyment of your own?

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I had treats and surprises

Well, it is Mother’s Day.

But with my husband away working and my three munchkins too young to manage the intricacies of breakfast in bed and pulling the interesting sections and supplements from the paper to give to me, I wasn’t expecting too much from the day.

To be fair, it has been a fairly ordinary day – plenty of laundry, tidying up, dishwashing, cooking, breaking up of bickering and feelings of irritation/ groundhog-iness. But then, I suppose it’s unrealistic to expect that Mothering Sunday should be completely remote from the reality of Mothering? (I live in hope though … and the Australian one, which we will also observe, takes place in about 2 months …)

But there were Nice Things too, even aside from the usual nice things that happen in a day with your children. There were the cards, including one that said, alarmingly, ‘Happy Moths Day’, a message that sent me scurrying straight to my collection of cashmere, most notably my Banjo & Matilda star sweater, to make sure that it was stocked with plenty of fresh lavender sachets and cedar balls.

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And then there was my gift – a voucher for a whole day drawing workshop with Sketchout at the V&A, on an available day of my choice. I am so excited. There was a Groupon offer on this workshop recently, which sold out by the time I’d proceeded to purchase, so to be able to do it after all – a whole day of drawing (which I’m not much good at, but am trying to get better) in one of my favourite places! Utter joy. What clever children.

And every Mother’s Day needs something in the way of a cakey treat doesn’t it? My diet’s pretty restricted though, which meant that when I was buying cupcakes for the children yesterday (a special ballet one for my daughter, who’d just done her first ever ballet exam) I couldn’t partake of the luscious-looking Mother’s Day specials so abundant at über-baker Ayres, in Nunhead.

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It was Chocolate Covered Katie to the rescue, with her divine looking Fudge Babies. I didn’t have everything that I needed to follow her recipe so ended up with a few variations. Which worked perfectly. Especially with coffee. Seriously sensational little morsels of truffly goodness, which come in at about 75 calories each if you use my recipe (which I’ve included below). I added the banana just for moisture, so that the mixture would go from crumbly to doughy; I think almond butter or coconut cream would work just as well. I don’t indulge much in the way of foodie treats, so until my kids can rustle up that breakfast in bed I mentioned, this will do me perfectly. 

Hope all of you have had happy Sundays, whether you are mothers (or with your mothers) or not.

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Cocoa Balls

30g almond flour

30g almonds

110g pitted dates

20g raw cacao powder (I use Inspiral products, they rock)

1/8 tspn salt

1tspn vanilla extract

50g banana (just for moisture- could experiment with nut butter/ avocado/ coconut cream)

Whizz everything up in the food processor, form into about 10 balls, refrigerate until firm.