Sunday, 22 February 2009


Half term is finished. Tomorrow life regains it's structure and picks up speed once more. Although February half term holiday is the hardest of the school breaks as nothing is open and the weather is generally poor, it has passed with relative ease.

I was once at a party. At the time I had two children who were both still at home and I was talking to someone I knew from my school days who had three with two at school. I remember her saying that she loved the holidays because she felt that she could spend time with her children and really get to know them again. She said that there was never time to do anything in term time and that she needed the holidays to regain some balance in her family. I thought she was mad! I struggled in the holidays because not only did I have my children full time but all the places that I might take them to fill the days were full of school age children. However, several years and two more children later I now know exactly what she meant. Term time life does fly by in a whirl of reading books, homework and ballet lessons. There is a real "It's Tuesday it must be Rome" feeling about it. Wherever I am going I am invariably rushing or urging a child to rush. I have to carry astounding numbers of arrangements in my head and ensure that each child is where they ought to be with the necessary equipment and on time.

But when the holidays arrive it all slows down to a much more manageable pace. I can always tell when it's coming because suddenly and without warning everyone involved with school starts to get on my nerves. Gossip that might have struck me as scintillating the week before becomes trivial and dull. I call-screen more than usual and avoid coffee dates. It is then that I can tell that I am ready for my retreat to holiday world.

I am lucky. My children do not expect to be entertained during the holidays. If we manage one trip out in the week they are doing really well. Instead the days pass with a mixture of games, impromptu shows and TV. One of the joys of multiple children is that the dynamics are constantly changing so there is no excuse for boredom. Someone always comes up with something that sounds appealing to someone else and often activities involve all four of them. All I have to do is provide food at regular intervals and mediate in the event of dispute. Cool.

That said, it isn't all a box of chocolates and by the end of the holiday I am generally feeling the need for time to myself, a house that stays tidy for more than twenty minutes and a bit of structure to my days and that is where I find myself this evening. Everything is clean and ready for tomorrow and I can begin again, renewed and ready to drink coffee with the best of them. Costa here I come.

Sunday, 15 February 2009


There may be trouble ahead. I can see it looming on the horizon. My eldest is 12 going on 15 and I fear that my efforts to keep her 12 are going to be about as successful as Canute's battles with the waves.

I have been very lucky so far. None of my children have subjected me to temper tantrums. Apart from the occasional throwing of objects by child number 2 there has been very little by way of displays of anger. I never had to deal with toddler lying on the floor in the supermarket screaming or refusing to cooperate in a shoe shop. However, that was all before I had to deal with hormones.

Hormones are relatively new in our house. Of course, everyone is subjected to my monthly rants. I make no apology for it. If you live with a woman you have to deal with the whole package and that includes ridiculous and irrational behavior once every 28 days. Bit like a werewolf in fact. However, it is becoming apparent that it is not just me who is having difficulties controlling their hormones. Today was a good case in point.

Eldest child is not allowed to wear make up whilst out of the house. At home she can experiment and try out different looks but when she goes out she has to look like she is 12. I do not think this in unreasonable but clearly I am wrong. The mascara that she wore yesterday in flagrant breach of the rules ended up smudging and giving her a completely different look and not one that I am prepared to accept. When I mentioned this she told me that she is 14 next year ( she is just 12 - nice try!) and everyone wore far more make up than her and I was being ridiculous. She then flounced off and refused to come swimming with us. She did come of course and was fine by the time we arrived. However, it is clear that I am going to have to practice my counting to ten technique and come up with some more reasoned arguments than " because I say so." Given that I have three daughters I fear we may be in for a rocky ride.

Sunday, 8 February 2009


"I want to get fit. Who's coming for a run " announced my 12 year old at 7.30 this morning. I don't know why she thinks she isn't fit. She dances at least three times a week, swims and walks best part of a mile to school and back every day.But this is what she wants to focus on today. So, we look at each other in a " Who is going to sort this one ?" sort of way. It is still dark at this point and there is snow on the lawn. " Well, " I say " I don't run so looks like that's one for you Daddy." Phew!

Some time later Daddy and three daughters all suitably dressed for exercise set off down the drive for a brief turn around the block and return a while later with pink cheeks and shining eyes, promising even greater things next time.

It's true though. I don't run. I never have. In my youth when one is forced into such activities by merciless PE teachers I always had one, major disadvantage. In fact, two. I had big boobs. This in no way assists one to run. Not only do you look ridiculous and have to face jeers from the monster that is the teenage boy but it hurts and as a teenager I had neither the money nor the inclination to get hold of a super support sports bra to strap me in.

I continued to use my boob excuse throughout my twenties although I could occasionally be seen on a treadmill in the gym. This is not like running though. It's really easy compared with running outside on the pavement so it doesn't really count.I did once get bullied into running the Fun Run in Ilkley. There is nothing fun about it. Half the course goes vertically up and the other half....? You guessed it and then most of Ilkley appear to be there to cheer you in when you get back exhausted and not looking at one's best.

So that was it for me with running. I wasn't built for it, I didn't like it and I wasn't doing it and that was that.

My thirties were spent either pregnant or breast feeding - neither of which are conducive to a good jog. And then finally my youngest child starts school. As I look around the playground I note in horror that the other mothers who aren't pushing buggies or dragging toddlers to preschool, fall into two camps. Those who have dogs and those who run. As we know, dogs are not my thing. So, to be in with the in crowd, I need to run. However, a slightly closer inspection of the running mothers reveals something sinister. Bandages, straps, supports. They are all injured. Knees, ankles, tendons. ligaments. They all have bits that hurt when they run. Well, der! What's the point of that then?

Sadly, my excuse has shrunk over time. I am no longer not built to run. My boobs have shrunk to a much more manageable size and are far more easily contained than they ever were.I am also fitter and stronger than ever before. Carrying four children through pregnancy works wonders for the strength of your heart.Years spent pushing single and double buggies at speed up the hills of Ilkley have increased my stamina remarkably and whizzing around for most of last year on my bike with my four year old in a seat on the back has done wonders for my leg muscles. So I could probably run now. Perhaps for some distance. But why would I? I am fit and healthy. All my joints work and I am rarely seen looking disheveled. That has to be good.

So running with the children will continue to be a Daddy activity and I can provide praise and hugs and orange segments when they return.

Sunday, 1 February 2009


Isn't it great when you learn to do something new. There's that buzz that you get when you discover that, much to your surprise, you are not completely hopeless and can hold your head high. Today I discovered that I am a mean snowboarder on the wii fit securing a gold medal on my second run. Ok - so not that great an achievement and not that hard but it was new and I did it.

Most of my skills have developed slowly over time. I don't remember when I discovered that I could cook or that I could do a no handed cartwheel. I just practised and over time it came. I can no longer do a no handed cartwheel I should point out although my two handed one isn't bad for someone of my age.

Very occasionally you find that you can just do something without any practise but just because you have a natural aptitude for it .I can think of two very different examples. When I was an articled clerk training to be a solicitor, I had to go on a weekend course with all of my peers. The course was designed to focus on the four main departments that we would work in on our route through our training. The department that I had liked the least thus far was litigation. There were so many rules and procedures and everyone seemed incredibly aggressive and antagonistic. I was already starting to think about a career doing deals with the corporate boys and saw litigation as something that I had to get through on my way there.

As part of this course we had to do an exercise in advocacy, an important but not enormous aspect of a litigator's job. We had to argue a mock application in front a couple of senior litigation partners which we had a short while to prepare.I stood up, said my piece and sat down. I can't remember whether I won or not. However, what I do remember as clear as day was the partner taking me on one side afterwards and telling me that I was a natural advocate and that I should be aiming for a job as a litigator. Not only was I horrified at this prospect but I had absolutely no idea what he had seen in me or my performance that marked me out from all the others. He was right though. As I qualified, recession was just starting to bite. Corporate jobs were thin on the ground and my offer of a corporate position was retracted . Instead, I chose to specialise in employment law which spanned both contentious and non contentious work. As a result, I appeared in the Employment Tribunal on countless occasions as advocate for my corporate clients and very rarely lost. It was apparent that the partner concerned was right when he saw whatever it was in me but to this day I couldn't tell you what it was.

The second skill that I seem to have was discovered far more recently at a friend's 40th birthday party. It was one of those corporate challenge type days the idea of which fill me with horror. If it hadn't been for the fact that it was a very close friend's party I would have found an excuse to skip the day and just do the evening. Anyway, I went along full of dread and trepidation to a very cold field just outside Harrogate. We were split into teams and shown the various activities. I almost wept and ran away there and then. There was a go-cart, a hovercraft, a bobcat and various shooting type events. I immediately panicked and retreated in to my shell. I am hopeless at that sort of thing, am not competitive and can't bear to make a fool of myself and yet here I was in a team of complete strangers about to try all these activities for the first time.

Our team was on the hovercraft first. It was a miserable day and incredibly windy. To steer the hovercraft you had to move your body weight around and thus make your way around a course. The combination of my size and the wind meant that I could not steer at all. No matter how hard I threw myself around in the craft I just couldn't get the thing to change direction. I was embarrassed and wanted to go home. The other events were no better. I could just about take the bob-cat round its course but I was never going to win any medals. Then it was our turn on the archery. The chap in charge showed me what to do as I cringed internally at the prospect of failing to achieve anything in yet another event. I was only just strong enough to pull the bow far enough back to release the arrow but I did and the arrow soared towards the target and hit it. Right in the middle. Everyone was astounded and no one more than me. I hadn't been any good at the pistol shooting but I could do this. I scored bulls eye after bulls eye. We were a man down in our team so I shot twice and was consistently good. I scored the highest score of the day. It was incredible.I have never done it since. I wonder if I could.

I had spent 40 years of my life not knowing that I could shoot an arrow at a target with a fair degree of accuracy. I wonder what other skills I may have and haven't yet discovered. It's exciting isn't it. Perhaps snowboarding is one of them?