I can put the toilet paper in the loo

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Really, you have to look on the bright side when you get back from a good holiday, don’t you? Otherwise it’s way too easy to sink into a mire of post-vacation doldrums.

There’s not a lot I don’t enjoy about Greece, and we’re luckier than most in that we have family there and, as such, an access to the lifestyle and culture that just can’t be summarised in a guidebook paragraph. Not to mention the man who bears the title of ‘uncle’ alongside that of ‘World’s Best Loukoumades Maker’ (loukoumaster, if you will).

The bin by the toilet thing doesn’t particularly bother me when we’re there. And I admit that I’m slightly clutching at cheerful straws when I raise it now. But it is kind of nice to live in a city with a reasonably reliable flushing system. And I think my youngest agreed when I took him to the loo at Gatwick this afternoon: on finishing, he reached out for the nearest receptacle, a sanitary unit. “No, no,” I said. “Not bins now, just in the toilet, it’s fine.” He looked at me incredulously. “So I can just put my paper in the toilet?” he asked. “Yep, back in London now, that’s fine,” I replied.

“Yes! I LOVE London!” he shouted, complete with Henman-stle fist pump. Like I said, we’re clutching at cheerful straws. But truly, we’ve had such a good week away. We’re not about to let that holiday feeling go down the shitter, are we?

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I collected driftwood

Of course, I’m happy about almost everything at the moment. We’re on holiday in Greece. It’s warm – hot, even – and sunny. We’re staying at The Lost Unicorn, one of the most enchanting places in which you could wish to stay and, luckier still, it’s owned by two of my favourite people in the world, my sister-in-law and her husband. Every morning I take one of the five dogs and go out for a long, mountainous, run; every afternoon we bask on one of the many glorious beaches in the vicinity. Every day we eat too much, laugh a lot and put the children to bed too late.

Today, at Agios Ioannis, I came across a piece of driftwood, perfectly bone-like in its smooth whiteness. Another and another piece beckoned, until we had such a collection that talk of ‘making something from it’ was as irresistible as it was inevitable. Whether we do or not, the meditative satisfaction in finding and amassing it, the pleasure in watching the children arrange, and rearrange it, the feeling of its smooth warmth in my hands: today, these things gave me a quiet joy.

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he questions fashion, not culture

Children can be mortifying sometimes; of course they can. The open stare, the theatrical point, the loudly voiced question. My daughter had me wishing for the nearest hole several years ago (she was only 2, bless her) when we passed through a supermarket checkout staffed by a rather facially hirsute lady. “Mummy, is that a lady or a man??” she demanded, teeny finger thrusting questioningly in the general direction of the assistant.

They’re better, more polite and more sensitive now that they’re older, of course. Even so, my heart embarked on the start of a little plummet at the airport as my 5 year old son, looking in the direction of a large group of Hasidic Jews, asked loudly: “Mummy, why do people wear stuff like that?”

I launched into a fairly bland explanation about different cultures and customs but was interrupted by “What culture wears pointy shoes?”

I was momentarily stopped in my tracks. “Huh?” I asked, glancing covertly at the shoes the black-robed group of men were wearing.

“There, that guy there,” my son said, with a (I have to say, very subtle) hand gesture towards a big-haired, skinny-jeans clad youth shod in winklepicker-esque shoes. “They look kind of stupid. And uncomfortable. I bet he can’t run fast in them.” He looked down complacently at his own shoes, newly purchased from Gently Elephant. “Not like I can in mine. I’m faster than Usain Bolt in these shoes.”

Curious about sartorial choice yet so accustomed to differences of race and culture that he barely bats an eyelid in their presence. That’s my Town Mouse.

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we had a moment of mutual recognition

A few years ago, my husband bought me a silver Alex Monroe dragonfly necklace for our wedding anniversary.

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Don’t get too excited: he’s a good husband, as husbands go, but present-buying is not his forte. I’d pretty much sent him the web link, with the information that, since it was our 4th wedding anniversary, his gift to me needed to be fruit or flowers. And then – winging it here, since I ate loads of fruit and filled the house with fresh flowers weekly anyway – also things that were attracted to fruit and flowers. Like dragonflies. Or, you know. This necklace.

So. I got the necklace and I adore it, rarely taking it off. I’ve since bought Alex Monroe pieces for other loved ones, too; I’m not selfish about keeping the exquisiteness all to myself. Although the dragonfly is mine, and mine alone 😉

Anyway. I had this nice thing on the train. The lady opposite me – she must have been in her 50s, at least – was wearing the gold bumblebee necklace. I looked at her, and her necklace; she looked at me, and mine. There was a spark of recognition, of “Aaah, you too, eh?”, of “Well done lovely lady, good taste, it looks fab on you.” It was a brief thing, before we returned to our copies of Stylist, our iPhones and our (my) general nosey gazing around at people, but it was an oddly warming, knowing, connective moment.

Never underestimate the power of a beautiful accessory.

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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 imparted some useful information

I know. Amazing, huh?

Trust me, it doesn’t happen often.

But yesterday, I bought some rhubarb. So pretty. I used to think that it was pink celery when I was younger, but liking how it looked didn’t bring me anywhere near to liking how it tasted. Yech.

Things are different now. I still have the same sweet tooth that I had as a child but it’s under pretty strict control. Sugars are out, including most fruits, although I do break ranks for berries. But since rhubarb is actually a vegetable, it’s low-carb and low in sugar. Which is why, I guess, you usually need to add so much sugar to it to make it more palatable!

But guess what: if you soak it in cold water for about 20 minutes with a tablespoon of baking powder, it neutralises some of the acidity, meaning that you can use far less sweetening agent when you cook it. The water turns greyish: just drain, rinse and add fresh water to stew. I use Nature’s Garden Stevia from Holland & Barrett since sugar is the very devil itself, but I reckon that a vanilla pod and a touch of cinnamon would work well too.

Anyway, I Instagrammed my rhubarb soaking pinkly and prettily in its pot, noting the baking powder tip, and was oddly thrilled when Facebook friends commented on its usefulness. Like I say, it’s not often that I say anything informative or handy, although I’m a little ripper at trivial nonsense.

Truthfully, though, I can’t take credit for the tip, having read it on theKitchn. I also can’t take credit for the photo of the finished-product, stewed rhubarb, which is from the lovely Thousand Threads blog. Mine came out much looking far less rosy; does the baking soda leach out some of the colour, perhaps? If I made this for guests, I might be tempted to add some berry or beetroot juice, just to amp up the hue. As it was, though, I was pretty happy just eating it, pale though it was, with yoghurt and a huge mug of Higher Living’s cinnamon tea. A couple of friends thinking that I’d said something vaguely clever and my sweet tooth satisfied: good feeling.

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I skipped my run

Ordinarily, this would not make me happy. Anything but! My mantra is: you never feel bad after a run, but you always feel bad if you miss one.

But this afternoon, I was pushed for time. By the time I’d kept my other commitments and had had schedules thwarted by tube delays, fitting in any kind of worthwhile run would’ve been tricky, and overtaken with thoughts of picking up children and sorting dinner. Half the beauty of running is mental emptiness; pressing responsibilities are not invited.

I ummmed and I ahhhed and I agitated. And then I thought: you know what? I ran 22 kilometres yesterday. I can afford a day off. And if you’re a fan of James Duigan you’ll know that stress makes you fat. To quote from p.52 of The Clean and Lean Diet:

“I see lots of … people who are literally running themselves fat. Why? Because if exercising makes you stressed – either because you’re doing too much of it or because you’re running around to squeeze your gym classes in after work – then it might be making you fat because of all the extra cortisol you’re producing…. I tell [new clients] to cut it down to twice or three times [a week] and replace a cardio session with a yoga or Pilates session to calm them down and relax their system.”

So, relaxation was the order of the day, and I got mine by way of an indulgent chocolate mousse. Ha! Ha! Should I say, OPI Chocolate Moose with which my nails are now varnished. Not enough time for a meaningful run, perhaps, but just enough time for an express mani. And when I run tomorrow, I’ll get a flash of well-groomed nails every time I check my Garmin.

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