Sunday, 29 November 2009


I went to a dinner party last night. It was a lovely evening. Four couples, the optimum number to combine relative ease of food preparation with manifold conversational combinations. Three courses plus cheese, coffee and liqueurs. Perfect.

But the formal dinner party appears to be a dying breed. Either I have become persona non grata without a reason that I am aware of or people have just stopped hosting them like they used to. And I am the same. Rather than full monty dinners for eight or ten, I have tended to slip towards small supper parties for six or even four with no starter and no table cloth.

I used to do big, sophisticated dinner parties having learned how it was done from a master. My mum was the hostess with the mostest when I was a child and I watched as she prepared the table, set with white damask and silver cutlery. There were starched napkins, tall candles, place settings and sparkling chrystal glasses. And so when I began to entertain, I tried to emulate this style, although my selection of bottom drawer linen was considerably inferior. I would spend hours planning the menu. Hot starter, main course and at least three veg, a choice of puddings. And they were fun. Hard work but in the main successful. I did go through a period in the early nineties when if you went out you would get a Delia recipe and you had to hope it wasn't the one you had had the week before but generally formal dinner parties were enjoyable.

And then somehow they fell out of fashion. For me that seemed to coincide with my giving up work closely followed by the births of my third and fourth children. With my energy levels severely depleted it was all I could do to stay awake until the end of Coronation Street, let alone cook for and entertain others. The habit was lost and for a long time we didn't eat with friends at all.

When I finally came out of the preschool haze and found a babysitter who could cope with all four kids, we gradually started back on food with friends. But now it was a very different beast. More relaxed, the cooking happened after the guests had arrived whilst everyone stood around in newly open plan kitchens chatting. No starter. One pudding or perhaps even a takeaway on the basis that it was the getting together that had become the focus of these evenings and not the food.

And whilst these supper parties are much easier to achieve and far more spontaneous, I do miss, from time to time, the formality of an evening with an array of cutlery to work your way through. Perhaps I should revive them chez nous? Maybe after Christmas...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Whilst perusing my post today, I noticed that my local opera company is putting on a production of "Ruddigore", a somewhat obscure Gilbert and Sullivan show. Nothing particularly unusual about that except for the fact that the last time I heard anyone mention that show was in 1982 when I starred in a production of it at school.

I say starred. Actually all the big parts went to the sixth formers and as a lowly fifth former I was cast jointly with a friend as the Lead Professional Bridesmaid. Not a huge part. The odd duet and a bit of skipping about the stage. But that didn't matter. I was in the show and that was the main thing.

It wasn't that I was a budding actress with a taste for greasepaint and limelight. But my school was all girls and Ruddigore was a joint production with the boys' school next door. So of course I wanted to be involved. All those rehearsals with boys. At the boys' school. Too good an opportunity to ignore.

So I learned my lines - all four of them- and practised the songs and then spent a term being directed by an English Master that I didn't know but was great fun. It was the only big show that I was in and I lapped it up. From the costume fitting to the after show party I thought the whole thing was fantastic.

My eldest is now a performer although she already has far more theatrical experience than I had. It helps to remember all the fun that I had on stage when I am waiting, like now, to go out in the cold and rain to collect her from her rehearsal. And she goes to a mixed school so her motivation is probably slightly more wholesome than mine!

Thursday, 19 November 2009


The list of things that I was going to do this evening is almost endless. The main contenders for my attention, in no particular order, are:
- buns for Children in Need tomorrow;
- making a dint in my mountain of ironing;
- going to the gym;
- starting the flowers for my mum's birthday cake;
- working on my course;
- reading my Wilkie Collins for book club.

In fact, apart from the buns which could not be put off, I haven't done much. I have ended up messing about on facebook with a glass of wine. Fun but not terribly productive. It's early. There is still time to do something more worthy. Plenty of time - but no drive! It's not like I am on my knees or completely exhausted or anything. I just can't be bothered.

I never used to be like this. If it needed doing then Imogen, the human whirlwind would do it. Now it's more like Imogen, the strong breeze. But does it really matter? It will all get done. Everything always does but not before I have a wobble about having too much on and a bit of a shout.

Maybe I am just unrealistic about how much can be achieved in one day? I wouldn't be the first. What I am getting better at though is managing the guilt that comes with failure to achieve. After all, it's not like I sit around all day doing nothing. The list of jobs done is generally pretty long even if I never quite get to its end.

So I shall enjoy my drink and when I have published this perhaps I will pick up The Woman in White and get a couple more chapters under my belt. I might even nick a bun!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009


You must not tell lies. I must say this to my children every week. Trust has to be the basis of any relationship and the parent/child one is no exception. And yet I am about to embark on a period of consistent and blatant lying which is not only condoned by those around me but positively encouraged.

I talk, of course, about the gigantic fiction that is Father Christmas. (If my elder children are reading this I am really sorry but you had to find out some day.) Over the next few weeks I will be telling whoppers that are, quite frankly, so preposterous that I can't believe that any right minded and healthily sceptical child is taken in.

I have been warming up nicely this week with a couple of visits from the Tooth Fairy, called upon to visit daughter number 3 who lost teeth on two consecutive days. Fortunately she is only really interested in the gap and the coin unlike her sisters who regularly wrote notes to the Tooth Fairy which I would discover quite by chance as I grovelled under their pillows to find the tooth. I became quite adept at Tooth Fairy handwriting and at trying to maintain consistency between both the style of the script and the answers to the questions.

But the myth of Father Christmas is so complicated that I can't believe that I seem to pull it off year after year. Firstly the whole entering via the chimney thing is wrought with difficulty. We do have an open fire but I doubt that a small mammal could find its way down it, let alone a rotund elderly gentleman with a huge sack of toys.

Then the letter. Orchestrating a scenario when the children request the presents that are already bought and wrapped and secreted about the house is no mean feat. Many's a time when I have had to steer the child back to the gift that they had wanted but had gone off. Then one year daughter number 2, always a cynic, wrote her letter and sent it up the chimney before I had a chance to read it. I am sure it was a test.I still don't know if I/Santa passed.

Then the gifts. Which ones are from Santa? The ones I buy? What about the ones that have labels from aunts and uncles? Did Santa deliver them too? If so, how did he get them? And why is that present to my cousin wrapped in the same paper as Santa uses? One year I got so frustrated that we got no credit for an expensive gift that I said that Daddy and I had bought it. This led to an expectation that they would receive a big gift from Father Christmas and one from Mum and Dad. Disaster!

Interestingly, only my youngest has ever questioned Santa's existence. He's nobody's fool and whilst I fobbed him off with all that " It's magic!" rubbish I could tell that he was far from convinced.

And now the whole rigmarole starts all over again. I have to remember what I have said in previous years because, sure as eggs is eggs the children will. And I will lie. Unashamedly. But faced with the option of taking an honest approach and telling them that it is all invention or perpetuating the myth for another year I know what I'll be saying. Because where would Christmas be without a little magic?

Sunday, 15 November 2009


My eldest baby is 13. I am the mother of a teenager. In that terribly cliched and yet horribly true fashion, can I really believe that it is 13 years since I held my firstborn in my arms? But of course I can. There has been so much water under the bridge since then that you would need a fairly lengthy time to have passed just to fit it all in. I remember her arrival with a clarity reserved only for the special moments in my life. I can't imagine a time when I won't be able to picture that image in my mind's eye. But of course thirteen years have passed otherwise how would she have got so tall and beautiful and poised and confident? That doesn't happen overnight.

I think she enjoyed her birthday. She was up early, unheard of recently and was excited all day, a mood more reminiscent of a child than an adolescent. And of course she is a child. Notwithstanding the marking of an anniversary, she is still the same as she was before, on the cusp of something new but still not quite ready to take the step.

And what does it mean, this teenage label that she now has? Mainly it is the expectation of others that parenting her will suddenly become a nightmare. Well, there is nothing sudden about that. The older she, and the others, become the harder it gets. They have ideas of their own. It less likely for "No. Because I say so " to be adequate response to any question. And the issues that arise become more and more significant for the future. They have greater ramifications,not only for her but also for how things go with her younger siblings who are watching us and making notes in the wings.

So she is now 13. I haven't used it as a benchmark for anything so no particular privileges are attached to it. It was just a birthday like any other. But somehow, in my mind and hers, a corner has been turned. Another marker laid down. There's no going back - but why would I want to? I am planning on sitting back and enjoying the ride.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


My girls have misbehaved. Not a minor misdemeanor which might result in Cross Mummy for a couple of minutes but something that I felt required a proper punishment to ensure that they understood that their behavior was unacceptable and should not be repeated.

Rather than shout and scream, I did the whole disappointed thing which, if you can hold it together for long enough without going mad, is far more successful than bawling at them. And I kept bringing their malfeasance up. Just when they thought I had moved on, there I was with another reason why I was disappointed. Childish I know but effective.

But these little irritants aside, we had to decide what was an appropriate sanction for their actions. And that's when it gets tricky. How do you punish an 11 and 12 year old in a way that is an appropriate deterrent but also doesn't impact disproportionately on the rest of us. When they were little I never banned the television as a punishment. The time when they sat quietly in front of the Tweenies was far too precious to give away wantonly.

First I thought of taking pocket money but they get precious little as it is. It hardly seemed in proportion with the crime. If I really wanted to cause pain I could confiscate their mobiles. The girls are never seen without them and they chirrup and ring incessantly. It would be nice to ban them just to get a bit of peace. But of course the whole purpose of them having phones is so that I can get hold of them when they are on their travels thus allowing them a large degree of independence. To deprive them would make my life more complicated and let's not forget who is supposed to be being punished here!

Grounding seemed the only option. But even this comes with qualification. Eldest daughter is rehearsing for a play. She cannot drop out of that at this stage. Then she turns 13 soon and the party is this weekend. We could have cancelled that but what would be a similarly serious deprivation for her sister? In the end I decided they would be grounded for anything that we weren't already committed to, thus excluding all those horribly expensive after school activities that I have paid for, the play and the party. So that it is. They are both "grounded" for a month. No friends after school or at weekends. No parties. No money spent on them. In fact whatever they want to do or have me buy, I just say no. And so far they have accepted that - an indication that they know that they were in the wrong and need to make amends. Let's just hope they have learned their lesson.

Saturday, 7 November 2009


So, here I am a week into my course. I don't think I mentioned what I was studying. I suspect that is because I am slightly embarrassed. Not because it's an embarrassing subject matter. Is there such a thing? Pornographic Photography for Beginners? Networking Skills for the Socially Challenged? No. My embarrassment lies in what it might say about me.It's an Open University course on Creative Writing. There! I've said it. It's not that I necessarily think that I have a novel in me, although that would be nice, or have a burning desire to have my insightful poetry published. (Don't worry! There isn't any poetry.) Really it just seemed to be the natural progression from why I started to post these little musings, a creative outlet, an opportunity to study what I enjoy.

But now I am one week in and I have to publish something for my whole online tutor group to read. I don't know these people other than the snippets of information about themselves that they have carefully chosen to share. I doubt I will ever meet them in real life. I thought that that would make it less daunting to put myself up for criticism. So much better, I thought, than sitting in an evening class in a church hall reading my work out to people that I might run into in Tesco's the next day. And I still think that. I am nervous about posting my effort to have it shot down in flames but I am happier doing it anonymously through the medium of the world wide web.

But I have a much bigger problem. I haven't actually got anything to post.
The brief is clear and I have sat down plenty of times and produced something. Some of it is OK I think but none of it does what the brief asks for. Somehow it just won't come. I would call it writers' block but for the fact that it sounds hideously pretentious. I'm not a writer and I'm not blocked. I just can't answer the question!

Others in my tutor group have posted theirs and so the pressure is really on. And here I am blogging because I know where I am with my blog. Today I have to write something on brief that I can publish. OK. I'm going to go and get on with it. When I've made some coffee, and set the table and the dishwasher needs emptying and I'll just put on some washing .........

Monday, 2 November 2009


So now it's November. And suddenly it can't be put off any longer. I am going to have to start thinking about Christmas. I know. It's weeks off. Surely it can be avoided for a little while longer? Well, of course it can. How long can it take to do a bit of shopping, bake a cake and a pudding and write some cards? Not that long really if I am honest but in my head, along with most women of my acquaintance, it is a task of gargantuan proportions that will devour me like a monstrous, mythical beast if I do not strive to control and contain it.

First things first. I have now established which of my nearest and dearest will be joining us for the big day. This assists in ordering a turkey of the correct proportions and gauging the amount of pudding required. Other things are pretty much fixed in stone. I still have the same number of children to buy for as I had last year. No extras have crept into my life. The number of friends and family for whom I like to choose gifts remains pretty steady year on year as does the number of cards that I send so I have a pretty clear idea of the size of the task ahead. I also know what three out of four of the kids would like which means I can sort that, assuming that minds do not get changed in the intervening weeks.

But despite all this logical planning, my spine still does an involuntary little tremble when I allow myself to think about what I have to achieve. But why? I am a competent, efficient and organised woman. I have run Christmas more or less single handedly ever since I left home and whilst the task has got bigger over the years it is still well within my capabilities.

So when I try to analyse what gives me the collywobbles, I conclude that it is the unknown element which makes my nervous. If all I had to do was Christmas it would be totally controlled. I could designate particular days for the list of tasks that need to be achieved and gradually work my way down in until it was all wrapped and ready to go. But as everyone knows this is the real world and I cannot spend the next eight weeks doing Christmas. I, like everyone else, have lots of other things that I need to achieve over the next two months and Christmas just has to fit in and amongst. But feeling slightly out of control and with too many things to achieve is not a state in which I find that I sit happily. This is no surprise to me or anyone that knows me. I like order and plans and carefully considered timetables into which all my tasks slot neatly, leaving space around the edges for coffee dates and books. And it is the knowledge that, in order to get to the end of the list, I will have to forgo an element of control and go with the flow that makes my palms sweat.

So I will make a list, carefully assess the amount of time available to me taking into consideration my other commitments and make a plan that I can hold onto in times of panic in the full knowledge that I always get there in the end.