we live in the world today

I haven’t posted in a while. Busy, yes. But also not all that happy. There’s been stuff, pretty rubbish stuff, questioning relationships with friends and relatives, and having to make decisions of a ‘moving on’ nature. Bah. Yuk.

Maybe I should change the name of this blog to “Today I smiled because…” Even when I’m not happy, there’s always something that makes me smile. Like the dad at the fair today, proudly bouncing his toddler daughter on the edge of the bouncy castle, gazing Pimmsily around at all and sundry, oblivious to the fact that her poo-filled pull-up had slipped down her legs and was bouncing, revoltingly, hilariously, by her ankles.

But there was a thing last weekend that’s brought a smile to my face every time I’ve thought about it. My daughter and I had some time together in the afternoon and went to meet the boys and my husband later, where they were playing football with two of my eldest son’s classmates and their dads. As we walked across the Rye to them, I was suddenly struck by the fact that, of the three dads, one (the one I’m married to) was (boringly) hetero and married. One, Muslim and unmarried, but cohabiting/ defacto/ whatever the acceptable term is. And the other, gay, in a relationship that’s about to hit the 20-year mark, and married in a civil ceremony 4 years ago.

I have clear memories of the problems I encountered as the child of a mixed race marriage in the 70s. The world is by no means perfect now, but I love that my children are growing up to question some things while accepting others without a flicker. And, of course, that they are growing up with a dad who’s brilliant, and would be, regardless of colour, race or creed.

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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 went to bed against a lightening sky

4am. Can’t remember the last time that happened.

4am sky

4am sky

It was a brilliant night. We had a Eurovision party at our place, and although we had the contest showing on two screens, I’m not convinced that anyone actually watched it.

The children had drawn a country for each person from a hat a few weeks ago, and the idea was that you had to bring some food that was vaguely representative of that country. There were waffles from Belgium, Serbian squid salad, Italian tiramisu, Irish soda bread, German meats and French cheeses. There was Hungarian apple cake, Icelandic prawns, Armenian Turlu, Norwegian gravadlax, Greek dolmades and an Ottolenghi cake for Israel. There was so much food that there were scarcely enough surfaces on which to put it; the effort everyone had gone to was sensational.

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The 26 finalists were written on slips of paper and placed inside a Babushka doll for drawing, but no one had brought money for a sweepstake so we decided to make it that the winner – Denmark, as it happened – had to sing the Bonnie Tyler entry on the Playstation Singstar karaoke; an event that spiralled into full Back-to-the-80s silliness with Human League and Spandau Ballet renditions.

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At the very end of the night there were just a handful of us left in our kitchen, surrounded by loads of empties but just enough full ones, picking olives out of the Greek salad and laughing raucously about inappropriate things. There was, I think, an incident involving the donning of wigs and the ‘theft’ of a piece of wood from a neighbourhood skip; something to do with building a shelf. I feel rough today, but it’s the best kind of rough, and it gave my daughter the chance to play her own version of Freaky Friday with me; as I lay, half-dozing on a beanbag in the garden today, she adopted the role of my mummy and covered me lightly in a blanket, spoon fed my feels-like-the-inside-of-a-birdcage mouth sips of water from a cup and – this bit wasn’t so good – tested me on my spellings. I will hold up my hands – I got 2 wrong – but I swear it was nothing to do with my fuggy head. I mean honestly, since when was finnico a word??!!

I took them to see their dad at work

My husband works in film & TV which means that, at best, his hours are erratic; at worst, they’re a pain in the backside, making it difficult to book holidays, plan socialising or make promises about outings and events to the children.

So this current job seemed like a relief, really – 4 weeks of definite Mondays to Fridays, leaving at half six, home for 8ish. No weekends, no all-nighters, no last minute moving of schedules. Rock solid.

Except that, it transpired, the ‘Mondays’ involved in the “Monday to Friday” bit of the arrangement included this one, today: Bank Holiday.

So that was a bit of a bummer, for starters but hey, we’ve had a nice weekend and I’m totally used to being with our 3 kids on my own. The issue was that the talent he’s working with are personalities about whom our children are mildly nuts. How mean would it have been to not take the opportunity to let them visit their dad on set and meet Dick & Dom at the same time?

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Again: not a massive problem. Until the weather forecast said that we’d hit the high ‘teens today. I will admit, I simmered with resentment. “To miss out on the sun to sit in a car for nigh on two hours, all up, simply to be in a vast studio for the sake of an hour or so?” I grumbled inwardly as I sat with the children in the garden this morning, legs out in shorts and browning nicely.

Every time they bickered, it was on the tip of my tongue to say “Right! That’s it! No visiting Daddy for you! Such rotten behaviour! As punishment, you must stay home and get changed into your cossies and run under the sprinkler and have water fights and eat ice cream!”

But I couldn’t, of course I couldn’t. My husband was dying to show off his kids and they were dying to see Daddy, Dick & Dom.

So we went. Yes, the traffic was foul in places and yes, the sun beat down tauntingly, tanning my window arm and little else. But when we got to the studio, everyone – Dick and Dom included! – were totally charming and welcoming, and the excitement our munchkins displayed, not to mention the pride with which my husband puffed up (well, possibly the catering may’ve have a hand in that … lord, these film crews help themselves to big portions!) made it all pretty much worth it.

Besides, it’s going to be 21 degrees tomorrow. And I will be sans the lot of them. 😉

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I packed away the winter coats and shoes

Enough’s enough, right? I don’t deny that we might have several a few more chilly days ahead but by Jove, I’ve had my wintry outers up to the wotsits.

So today, I pulled out the storage bags containing my summer stuff, packed away the coats and boots and rediscovered my last-season sandals. It’s sad but true to say that many of them bear more than a passing resemblance to footwear I’ve already, avidly, bought this season but I’m nothing if not consistent; it’s completely in character for me to wander into a store wearing, say, a grey sweater and to walk out clutching a bag containing an almost identical knit. The worst example ever of this was the day that I stood in Cos swooning over a navy wool dress with leather patch pockets before it gradually dawned on me that not only did I already own the dress in question: I was in fact wearing it at that very moment.

Anyway. The only thing that’s better than having summery shoes to wear is having the weather and the occasion for wearing them. Yesterday morning? Not so much: I did an MCC Promotions-organised 10km run on Peckham Rye with two other mums from school, where footwear of a functional, rather than fabulous, nature was the order of the day, especially since a gait assessment at Runners Need revealed my hideous overpronation. My trainers are practically platforms, yes, but running in heels has never felt so good.

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In the evening, however, we had dinner at The Begging Bowl with some of our friends, and it was bare legs, Sam Edelman Flynn sandals and fantastically flavoursome food. Today, my husband’s uncle and his partner took us out for lunch at Le Querce, for which I wore winged Ancient Greek sandals bought from Net-a-Porter last summer (along with a Zara dress in a good-to-be-alive shade of green)  The monkfish was amazing and the children seated at the next table were fairly hideous, which had an unhappy effect on noise levels and our ability to converse, but a brilliantly positive impact on how we, and the uncles, regarded the behaviour of our three. Now, I don’t know about other mothers out there, but to me this is pretty much the Holy Grail of a day out: eating delicious food, enjoying the company you’re with, feeling proud of your children and not feeling that every stitch you’re wearing has been chosen purely for matters of “I’m with the kids” practicality but also because you a) actually like them and b) the sun is shining after far, far too long of doing anything but that.

Would I be jinxing matters if I booked a pedi for next week, do you think?

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we car-booted it

I love a detox, I do. I love the feeling of shedding things: weight, toxins, sweat, habits, possessions, even people. If it’s baggage, if it doesn’t make you happy, if it doesn’t benefit your life: it can go.

Obviously this isn’t always achievable, especially when it comes to people. But where I can cull, I’ll cull.

Unfortunately, I’m also prone to acquisition, which is a habit I’m working hard to break in this, my 41st year. But it’s easy to overlook just how much you acquire when you’re ridding yourself of things in drib and drabs. It’s like weight, I guess: a week of big meals and excessive drinking here, the odd pound there .. you don’t just gain 2 stone overnight, do you? I can see why people talk about their weight ‘just creeping up.’ It’s the same for me and, well, mostly clothes and books. A few in, a few more in, a few out, a few more in.

When we had our loft conversion done at the end of last year, we gained a gorgeous bedroom with a fab view, yes. But we also lost a whole lotta storage space. Time indeed for a cull.

As I said, getting rid of things in random trips to charity shops, recycling bins, the tip and the post office (I just can’t face eBay anymore, personally) doesn’t give you a real sense of the enormity of your hoard. Seeing it all in one place at the one time, at a car boot sale, was an education, and actually a rather humbling one. I’m going to try to be far less acquisitive in future (although I know, yes yes I know, full well that I’ve said this before)

And – on a completely self-indulgent and not at all earnest nor humble note – it was also very gratifying to see the extent to which people swooped delightedly upon my cast-off clothes. Good grief, can you imagine – bad enough to be guilt-ridden about how much stuff you’ve bought over the last year or so – even worse to think that it was all tasteless crap that no one liked!

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