Saturday, 27 February 2010


My eyes don't work! They never have done really. I got my first pair of glasses when I was 11. They were for reading the blackboard and watching TV. On day one I got into trouble for not concentrating in class. In fact, I had spent the whole lesson looking at the head of the child two rows in front of me. Instead of just having a dark area on the top of her head, I could make out every individual strand of hair. It fascinated me.

And then I discovered that there really was a man in the moon, or at least you could make out discernible shapes on its surface. Prior to this the moon was just a bright blob in the night sky.

So, armed with my tortoiseshell NHS glasses, a whole new world of vision opened up for me. By the time I was 17 I had graduated to contact lenses. They were the hard ones and I seemed to spend most of my life either hunting the surrounding floor area for them or with them in my mouth to remove grit.

Since then my eyesight hasn't really changed. I can't drive without visual assistance but if I lost my lenses I could function around town perfectly adequately although I can't guarantee that I'd acknowledge you if I saw you in the street. But I have wondered over the years whether I should go and have them laser zapped. I don't have any particular fear of the procedure itself (although the small print always warns that your eyesight could go down as well as up.)No, the real issue has been that I really couldn't be bothered with the faff.

When I first looked at it back in the early nineties, my concern was that I wouldn't be allowed to wear make up for several weeks afterwards. I don't consider myself to be particularly vain but without eye make up I do look a bit like I died. I was working in a large office at that time with lots of power dressing women and life without mascara could not be contemplated.

Then, some years later when I no longer went out to work, my husband had his done and went from blind as a bat to better than 20:20 overnight. However, he had to wear plastic eye protectors in bed at night. He looked like a fly. This was another stumbling block. At that stage I was still up most nights with one child or another. This could not be done with plastic cups sellotaped to my face so on to the back burner went the plan again.

And now? Well, I'm 43 and am told by my friends that I can fully expect to start to squinting at menus any minute now. Is there really any point going through the hassle and expense of eye surgery if I am going to have to wear reading glasses anyway? Probably not. My children are likely to have dodgy eyesight given the gene pool that they have inherited. Perhaps I should focus on saving up to pay for surgery for them when the time comes and stop wondering myself? Anyway, you can get some pretty dudey glasses these days. Perhaps I can aim for a bit of a Felicity Kendall look and peer over the top of my specs in an alluring fashion? I suspect I have missed the laser surgery showboat. Ah well...

Friday, 26 February 2010


It's not my son's birthday this weekend. No leap day means no birthday. But that hardly seems fair, especially when you are 6/1. So we will pretend.

The main focus of your birthday when you are about to be 6, as you will recall I'm sure from your own childhood, is the party. Most children harbour a desire to be centre of attention, which in this house is no mean feat. So a great deal of time is spent carefully selecting the party type in full knowledge that it'll be a long time until your moment in the limelight comes round again. (And in my son's case, an extremely long time!) Party negotiations with the girls begin at least six months before the actual event and there is a great deal of swerving and manoeuvring on my part and compromising on theirs before we reach a solution that pleases all.

With my son it's a slightly different ball game. He is a quirky child. He has been heavily influenced by living with three sisters and a girly mum. He doesn't do sport, Ben 10 and other boy orientated merchandise leave him cold and he's too little to have a pool party.

What he lacks in testosterone, however, he makes up for in imagination. First he wanted a Cat Flap Cats party based loosely on a book he is reading, then something to do with a particularly fluffy Pokemon that had caught his eye. The ideas, becoming less practical by the day, came pouring out of him until I entirely lost track of any point of reference that he might have.

In the end he decided he wanted a party at home with games. I took a very deep breath and said yes as long as the numbers were less that 12, this being the number of bottoms that my dining table can seat.

Kids parties at home are a rare thing these days. There are so many attractive alternatives available. But we have the space as long as I do a bit of reorganising. And the children are 5 and 6 so their tastes are relatively unsophisticated and they are still happy to take direction without question.

Expectations are high however. If you play Pass the Parcel there has to be a sweet in each layer to prevent howls of disappointment. In fact, sweets have to be liberally sloshed about to avoid revolution. And the key to success is to keep them busy so no one gets distracted and either wanders off for an explore upstairs or suggests that they might be bored which would infect the others faster than you can say Jack Robinson.

So the party will be nice and short. Lots of games played in remarkably quick succession. All children actively engaged to avoid discontentment and a large gin and tonic ready for when they have all left. I will take lots of pictures to remind my son of his idyllic childhood when he is older and hope that he doesn't cry at any point. Wish me luck!

Friday, 19 February 2010


I have a friend with six children. They are intelligent, well mannered, accomplished, engaging and beautiful to boot. I am filled with admiration. Successfully managing four children is a challenge. I cannot imagine how she is able to deal with six and stay sane.

But it gets even more impressive. She has banned screens in her house. Her children have no TV, computer games or mobile telephones. They watch age appropriate DVDs at the weekend. I assume the children have access to these things at other people's houses but generally her house runs without them.

I think it is generally accepted that the modern child spends too long in front of a screen each day. As a result they seem to have stopped enjoying physical and imaginative play. When I was a child there were two channels showing children's programmes and then only between 3 and 6 each afternoon. I remember when Noel Edmunds burst forth with a programme that lasted for the whole of Saturday morning. Radical. Obviously I wasn't allowed to watch it. Saturdays were for doing things.

Now it is much more difficult for parents to control. My children have access to a wide array of programming 24 hours a day. They also have countless websites offering them diversions, the wii and various hand held devices. About two years ago, conscious that the screens were beginning to shape their lives, I initiated "No screen Tuesday" which they accept, albeit grudgingly. On Tuesdays they have to think of something else to do and they always do.

So when I heard that my friend had banned all screens I stopped to think. At first, I felt guilty. Am I failing as a mother? Am I guilty of using screens to entertain my children when I should be doing it myself? Maybe, a little. The big two always had to ask permission before turning on a screen. The little ones seem to have bypassed this rule and clearly it needs reinforcing so that I am aware of what they are doing and how much screen time they have.

And there are things that I really dislike. It drives me mad that text alarms go off all day long. I don't really approve of them being on facebook (not withstanding my own addiction to social networking.)I would rather that they used a dictionary to look words up rather than a spell checker. But these are the tools of the 21st century. We don't like them because they are new but this is the way it is going to be for our children. They will grow up in a world where computers rule the roost. Most of them will end up doing jobs that haven't even been thought of yet.

And so, unsurprisingly, I have decided that the answer has to lie in a compromise somewhere between my friend's position and what the children would choose for themselves. My role as a mother is to ensure that my children's screen time is closely monitored and controlled. I need to teach them that the world is far bigger and more exciting than the confines of a computer and that the virtual world is no substitute for the real one. But mobile telephones, computers and computer games are part of the modern age and to deny that has to be comparable with the Luddites of yesteryear. Appropriately used they can enhance our life, not threaten it.

It is good for us to question as we parent, to look see how others approach the issues that arise every day and make changes where it seems necessary or appropriate. And in the end we all have to follow the path that feels right to us. And hope that we made the right decision.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Today my family and I went ice skating at the outside rink in Leeds City Centre. It was busy - it's half term after all - but we all enjoyed it immensely. The skaters were a real mixture of ages and abilities. There seemed to be no one who could really skate and the ice was too busy to get up any speed or do any fancy manoeuvres. And around the rink there were giant screens showing the Olympic ice dancing which put us all firmly in our place.

Skating with small children is challenging. You have to be able to maintain your balance whilst ensuring that your wobbling off spring don't pull you off your feet. My youngest didn't really get going without having someone holding one and preferably two hands. The seven year old managed to build enough confidence to skate unaided and the big two have been plenty of times before and so could pretty much do their own thing.

I love to skate. I didn't really do much ice skating as a child. The nearest rink was prohibitively distant. But this was the 80s and we had roller boots. My best friend had some first and I was so envious. Hers were blue and white and I coveted them more than I care to admit. Then I got some too. Mine were two shades of blue and red and they were my pride and joy. We lived in a really rural village in Lincolnshire where cars were rarely seen and we spent every night after school practising our turns until we really were quite good.

Every Sunday afternoon there was a skating session in a hall in Lincoln and we went whenever we could. The room was hot and sweaty with a selection of garish disco lights and a glitter ball. The music was the middle of the road fodder of the time -Foreigner, Hall and Oates. You get the idea. My friend and I used to skate round and round in our pre-lycra, skin tight jeans trying to look cool and attract the attention of the boys in their maroon cardigans and grey flannel pegs.

Half way through the session they would pull out a steep ramp and the skating would stop to allow the braver skaters to skate up and over the ramp. If you were really good you could do a jump or a pirouette at the top. I never was. There were far too many handsome boys watching to risk falling over, or worse, falling off!

Such simple pleasures. A hall, some music and skating round in circles forwards and then backwards. And yet I looked forward to it more than anything else that I did.

I note with interest that roller discos are making a comeback. I even have some newish skates. I suspect, though that I would need a considerable amount of practise before I could have another go. From time to time I can be seen skating up and down my road or around the local park. Maybe I can recruit someone to come with me.I'm sure it would be a highly entertaining way to spend an evening or two. Any takers?

Saturday, 13 February 2010


A friend of mine has this fantastic routine on a Saturday. He can sum it up in just four words. Skips. Blades. Cider. Bed. He takes his son with him to the skipping session at his local boxing club and to see his beloved football team. I suspect his son, not yet a teenager, isn't really involved with the cider but in essence, he spends his day doing the activities he loves with child in tow.

Contrast this, if you will, with my Saturday. It starts nicely enough with a latte and the papers but from there it's downhill all the way until about 7.30. Between them, the children have five activities. Not many but they all need covering. So whilst my husband whizzes around doing that I get on with the mountain of school uniform that needs ironing. Then lunch, made in a hurry to squeeze it between swimming and ballet. The afternoon passes in a whirl of household duties and board games with maybe a bit of homework or a rehearsal thrown in for good measure. At some point there is likely to be a selection of other people's children who, to be fair, require very little input from me. Then tea together and some Saturday night drivel or a film on TV that we can watch together before I bath the little ones, read them their story and collapse, exhausted in a heap on the sofa with a large glass of white and my laptop.

Somehow the balance seems to have got skewed. If I do manage to leave the house at the weekend (and Sunday really isn't much better to be fair) then I see lots of families who have come to Ilkley for a day out. They aren't bogged down with food preparation or laundry.

Then I wonder, perhaps it's just me. Maybe other people just close their front door on it all and go out to embrace life while they can? This makes me feel worse because I can't do that. I need jobs to be finished before I can relax. And the jobs take all day...ergo.

But when I look closely I can see a number of differences between me and the people on their day trips. Firstly, and the most telling, they rarely have more than two children. Two bikes to pack, two mouths to feed, two lots of interests to cater for. When I just had two ( which I did until number 2 was four and a half) I could do trips with relative ease. it's not quite so simple these days.

Secondly, I suspect these families have two working parents and so need some leisure time all together. I don't. I see my kids all the time.

Finally they have come to Ilkley for a good day out - town, moors, park, woods river, Betty's. It's got it all. The perfect destination by car, bus or train. But I live here. I don't need to visit. We can and do fit in a lot of that stuff after school and I'm unlikely to brave the Riverside Gardens when it's full of visitors. Of course, there are other equally appealing places that we could visit but I never look at my surroundings and think that I must get away at the weekend.

I decided a long time ago that the weekend was when my real work began. The house is fuller, there needs to be more food and someone has to make preparations for the week ahead if it is all to run smoothly. My kids are busy and happy playing and chilling and if I were to suggest a trip out they would tell me that they are perfectly contented staying put. But I do look wistfully at my friend's day and sigh - Skips. Blades. Cider. Sleep!

Thursday, 11 February 2010


So, after three months of fretting about whether to sign up and three months of typing away feverishly, my Open University course is over. And I passed which pleases me. It's encouraging to have an objective point of view. My tutor thought I should pass so she must believe that I have learned enough to demonstrate some level of skill.

But what next? By the end of the course there were only a handful of dedicated students still commenting on each other's work and so when someone suggested that we all keep in touch we leaped at the chance. A group of like minded people all trying to realise a dream and looking for help, inspiration and support on the way.

I don't know these people although I have spent three months bearing my creative outpourings, if not my soul, to them on line. I wouldn't recognise them if I passed them in the street. And yet these are the people that I have chosen to expose my soft underbelly to.

Perhaps it is the anonymity of the group that makes me feel safe. I know next to nothing about their daily lives and vice versa but I respect their views on what I produce and have a genuine interest in their writing. But is is a safe environment for me to explore. If at any time I start to feel vulnerable or lacking in self confidence I can withdraw - something that would be much harder if I open myself up to the people in my day to day life. And the honesty of the group is difficult to replicate elsewhere. It would be unlikely for my friends to sit and look at me across a cup of cappuccino and tell me that my ideas are old hat and my prose stilted. But my virtual friends can give me their worst because they have nothing to lose. And that is the whole point of the group.

I have been far braver with what I have done so far than I could ever imagine I would be. Exposing my blog to my facebook friends was a surprising step for me. And then regularly reminding people that I was engaged on the course was unnervingly uncharacteristic. Finally, posting my final piece here for all to see is something that I could never have even contemplated this time last year. I have been surprised by my confidence but I do not regret my actions even if there is more of me exposed than I would usually allow.

So, for the time being that is how I will progress, little by little, feeling my way. And it's exciting and I can't knock that.

Monday, 8 February 2010


I cannot tell a lie - I am a hopeless liar. It's not particularly that I am an "as honest as the day is long kind of girl" although I do try. It's more that my mind just doesn't work fast enough to lie. When faced with a question I just tell the truth. It just kind of blurts out before I have had chance to think up something more original to say. So I am no good at those kind of jokes where lying forms the basis of the entertainment. I never think to tease the children in the way that daddies seem to do. I just tell it like it is.

I was once trying to play a dice game with friends. It was all about betting on what you threw. On top of that, you had to bluff as to what you thought you could throw. As you can imagine, it was not my forte. It took me a while to work out the point of the game. The people that were teaching me were incredibly enthusiastic about it and I couldn't understand why. Surely what you threw was what you threw? A definite, objective thing. An element of luck but really not that much fun. Eventually, it dawned on me that the scores that people were bidding couldn't possibly match what they had thrown. And then, very slowly and dimly, light dawned. They were lying.

Ah. Now I could see what was going on. But once I had finally caught on it took me no further forward because I really couldn't see the point. And I couldn't think that way. The whole game wasn't a great success for me! I don't think I'll ever play poker.

Recently I have started delving gently into the millions of other blogs out there. I have never done it before in case what I find knocks my confidence. However, determined not to be scared off I did start to look. Some of them seemed to contain details of lives that began to make me feel very staid and dull. I know my life isn't the wildest but I do have my moments! But in comparison with these bloggers?!
And then it dawned on me. Perhaps they aren't telling the truth? I know I'm slow. But it really didn't occur to me that people might make stuff up. Bless me.

Every word of the 140 posts that I have written so far is true. It's just stuff that happens or has happened to me. But then I started thinking. Perhaps I should start lying in my posts? I wonder if anyone would spot some judiciously placed whoppers. And it wouldn't be lying as such, more like turning my blog into a work of fiction rather than an autobiography. Could be fun.

But I suspect I won't do it. For a start, too many people that know me well read what I write. They could ask questions and expose me far too readily. And anyway, as I said before, I'm no good at lying. So I'll stick with the truth in my blog and develop a healthy scepticism for anything that I read elsewhere on the world wide web that makes me feel too dull.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


I bought myself a DVD of the first series of "Outnumbered". I feel so much better. I know that it's fictional but it has to be based on real life right? Other people must struggle with these parenting issues or they wouldn't relate to it and it wouldn't be funny. Surely?

I have to say that it's not quite that bad in our house. All my children don't generally misbehave on the same day although sometimes they give me their best effort in quick succession. It's as if they drew straws between themselves for who would go first. Yesterday was a case in point. I was a bit on edge anyway. Tuesday nights can be challenging at the best of times. Last night it was just me as my husband wasn't coming home. And we have no hot water. It's been a fortnight since my boiler functioned effectively so I was a little bit frazzled.

The youngest commited some relatively minor misdemeanor to which I massively over reacted and sent him to his room. So then, when the eldest did the unfortunate attitude thing, she probably got more of a lambasting than she genuinely deserved. Smarting with righteous indignation she shouted. I shouted back - more loudly.

Things calmed down. The children apologised and on we went. At bedtime, my youngest mentioned casually in passing that he had recorded my shouting on his DSi. And he had. When he was asleep I retrieved said gadget and lo and behold there is a crystal clear recording of me swearing at my child. I was so proud.

So when I watch "Outnumbered" it makes me feel less inadequate. I will pretend it's a documentary and then allow myself to feel smug because my children aren't that bad after all.


Just over three years ago I knocked a child over in my car. He was about 12 and the first I saw of him was when he bounced off my bonnet and into the path of the oncoming traffic.

It was a wet November day. I was on my way to collect my elder two children from school and was uncharacteristically in the car because the younger two and I were just returning from a day trip. Both streams of traffic were moving slowly, probably no more than 15 miles an hour. The child had looked right, spotted a gap in the cars and darted into it without checking the other lane. I hit him before I could do anything about it. I saw him hit my windscreen and ricochet off and on to the tarmac. The Porsche coming the other way just stopped in time but his front tyres were pushing against the boy's ribs and he was screaming out, not in pain but for fear that the car would drive over him.

For a moment I just sat there. I didn't dare open the door for fear of what I might see. Every part of me went cold. Then I got out of the car. The boy had his eyes open. He was pale but I could see no blood. I spoke to him, asked his name and if he was in pain. By now he had stopped screaming. His answers were confused.

The driver behind me called the police and an ambulance and the boy was rushed off, sirens flashing to the nearest hospital. He was fine, a few bruises and no doubt a deeper regard for the dangers of the road. The driver behind me told the police that he had just run out and that I could have done nothing differently. The policeman was kind. He took my details and then rang later to inform me that the child was unharmed and that no action would be taken as it was an accident.

It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I was completely blameless and the child was fine but the "what ifs" still haunt me. What if the traffic had been moving faster and he had been seriously hurt or worse? It would still have been his fault but how would I live with the damage that I inflicted. Then there are the scenarios that you dare not imagine. What if I had been on the phone, or turning round to shout at the children in the back? Then I would never know if I could have done something to prevent it.

Once I had all my children safely at home I started to shake and then I cried for hours. My husband told me over and over again that it wasn't my fault and that everything was OK but of course it wasn't. I did hit a child with my car. My culpability counted for nothing. I was driving. I did it.

Now, all these years on, I am still haunted by my experience. If I see anything similar on TV I will burst into tears spontaneously. It is a reaction that I am totally unable to control. I wonder if that will ever go away. I also fret that my children, who must have seen everything from their elevated positions in their car seats, can remember. I daren't ask them for fear of raking something up but they must have recollection at some level.

A while ago I went to collect my child from her friend's house. I misremembered the number of the house and knocked at the wrong door. After a few moments, the boy that I hit opened the door. Of course, he doesn't know who I am but the shock for me was huge. He smiled as I explained that I had the wrong house and left but I was shaken to my core.

I think about what I did almost every time that I get behind the wheel which is perhaps no bad thing. Does the boy ever think about it? How about his mother?