Wednesday, 29 September 2010


When my mum asked me what I would like for my birthday recently, I answered without hesitation. Book tokens please. Sounding a little doubtful, she asked me if I was sure. I said that I was and so that's what I got.

But having a book token to spend is far more complex than just getting a book. First of all it's money that you have to spend on books. There is no alternative. You can't cash it in and spend it on new school shoes. You have to buy books and so you can do it without even a modicum of guilt at your self indulgence.

Then you have to select what to buy. Too much of my book buying these days is limited to typing part of a title into Amazon and clicking on one stop shop. It's practical, functional, cheap. But where's the pleasure? To me, choosing a book is an indulgence to be savoured. I want to stand in a real book shop and scan the shelves until a title or a name or a colour leaps out at me. Then I pluck the tome carefully from its nestling place and flick it over to read the sales pitch on the back, placing it back gently if it doesn't appeal and moving on.

We have a lovely little bookshop in Ilkley which carries plenty of fiction titles but lacks a serious range of non fiction books so the next part of my plan was a trip to Leeds. Usually when I head to the big city I have an list in my head of things that need to be achieved before I sprint back for the train in time for school. With book tokens in my purse, I planned a trip for nothing but books. I might even, I mused self indulgently, buy myself a cappucino at the Costa Coffee in Waterstones and peruse at my leisure.

And so yesterday was the day. I had no idea what I wanted to buy but I knew it would be non fiction. I have a hard enough time keeping up with fiction that I have to read for Book Club, my course and my pleasure without adding to it. No this was all about buying books that I would never buy for myself.

I skipped the ground floor entirely, even swerving the fabulous children's department and headed upstairs. And there I spent a delicious hour or so floating from department to department looking at whatever caught my eye.

Some things I didn't even look at. Sport - as if? Travel - makes me too envious. Cookery - way too many already. But ancient history held me for a while as did art and design and parenting. I spent a little while looking at Prof Cox and his new book before deciding that a book with a wider subject base would be of more use despite all the lovely pictures of him. Home crafts slowed my progress too, as I pored over handmade jewellery and knitting patterns.

In the end I choose these three. I'm not sure I could have carried any more. I paid and was delighted to learn that I still had not exhausted my gift card. And when I rang my mum to tell her what I'd bought and how much fun I'd had, I think she understood the reason for the request in the first place.

Monday, 27 September 2010


Supermarkets do my head in.

It's Monday morning. I see the children off to school and then head to the supermarket. It's a routine. It's dull but it works for me, particularly if the kids are going to have anything for tea. After a weekend at home ( and let's face it, what other kind of weekend is there for a family with four children?) my cupboards are bare. Of course that isn't actually true. There's loads of food but just not the kind of thing that any of them want to eat when they land after school and declare extreme hunger.

I generally go to Sainsbury's in the next town. Ilkley has a Tesco and a Booth's but I have run a one woman campaign to boycott Tesco ever since I discovered that it soaks up one pound in seven of money spent in the UK. And anyway, our Tesco is overpriced and under stocked. Booth's is fab but isn't much good on big boxes which is what I need. So off I trot to Otley.

I loath it. I never know what to get and so just repeat the trolley from the week before excluding what I know is unused and adding what I know we ran out of. I know this because we have a system whereby the person who finishes something writes it on the list. You can imagine how successfully it works but at least I try.

Today, Sainsbury's had a large nut display in the fruit and veg section. Nuts can only mean one thing in England - Christmas. I looked harder and lo and behold the signage was red and green and covered in little pine trees. Surely no one buys their festive walnuts in September? I know the theory is that if we buy early we are all so innately greedy that we will eat them and have to buy them all over again but there is something distasteful about that proposition in the fattest nation in Europe.

Before I gave up work, I had hoped that I would use local shops for my day to day groceries, leaving the supermarket for the bulky stuff. I pictured myself leafing through my cookery books and then trotting up to town for fresh ingredients with a wicker basket. Unrealistic I know. I do try. But my greengrocer closed and my cheese shop closed and gradually, for convenience, I have been forced back to the big boys. I've tried internet shopping but I always end up forgetting something and having to make the trip anyway which sort of defeats the purpose.

The shopping is all unpacked now and nestles in the cupboards waiting for the starving hordes and their friends but the supermarket leaves a sour taste even though I try to shop in season and ethically. I wish the whole experience was less unsatisfactory but I can't see a way round it. I just have to accept that it's a necessity of my life and get on with it - like so many other things. But Christmas nuts? Give me a break!

Saturday, 25 September 2010


You know how it is. You want to give your kids the best start in life, offer them all the opportunities that you didn't, or in my case, did have. Try to help them turn out as an accomplished and rounded young person.

So it was in my house eleven years ago when my eldest took her first faltering steps into the pink world of ballet. She looked so small in her little pink leotard and her tiny satin shoes, too small yet for ribbon, were so appealing. Little did I know back then what a roller-coaster I was inadvertently stepping on to.

It started small. I don't consider myself to be the kind of parent that needs to fill every moment with some kind of structured entertainment for my little charges. We skipped Russian lessons at 4, table tennis at 5 etc. But there are certain what I like to think of basic skills that are beneficial for a child to learn.

The first was clearly how to dance and let's face it, which mother can resist the urge to dress her daughter in pink and skip them off to class. Swimming is an essential. The kids cross a river on the way to school each day and so need to be able to swim to the edge should they ever fall in. ( Unlikely on the way to school I admit but still important.) Then Rainbows. I loved Guides and attended some form of guiding from 7 until I went to university. Character building stuff, camping on the side of a mountain in the freezing cold with only old socks to eat. So that was next.

The last must have on my list was an ability to read music and play an instrument. Isn't that one of the things that people always wish they could do so what kind of a parent would I be if my children didn't have a go?

And that was it. Extra curricular sessions in essential life skills and things that are fun. Sorted.

However, there were three things that I failed to take into consideration. Firstly, I have four children. Whatever opportunities which were afforded to the first born have to pass down the line. Secondly, one teensy weensy class a week is soon not enough. To ballet was added modern and jazz and then tap. After learning to read music, singing in a choir could neatly segue in.

And finally, I forgot that the children might have their own ideas as to how they would like to spend their leisure time. So whilst I said no to horse riding, girls rugby, more instruments and swimming club, we also got drama, athletics, hockey, netball and gymnastics to add to the list. So keen are my children on trying things out that they keep volunteering for things. I wince, consult the diary and say yeah or nay depending on whether it is physically possible to attend. 

Somehow the whole children's activity thing has completely mushroomed out of control. My head spins with trying to remember who has to be where when and what I can possibly feed them in between. As I type, we are up to 27different things a week which doesn't include rehearsals for the four shows that some or all of them have parts in.

I have accidentally become what I never saw myself as - a mother who pushes her children. Except I didn't. Nobody has ever said they didn't want to do something and the only thing that they have quit is guides because they had to stop something to fit their homework in. I suppose that I am lucky to have children who are keen to achieve and take part. But as I cruise round Ilkley in the dark picking up and dropping off like a demon, it's hard to remember the positives. Long gone are the days when they were all in bed by 7.00 and that longed for first glass of wine is getting later and later. People tell me that things tail off as they get older which is some comfort although my youngest is only just getting going.

I know I'm not alone. I see other harassed mothers on a similar trail to me all wondering how things accidentally got to this. Perhaps when my children are grown and have children of their own they will look back and appreciate my efforts. But in fact they will probably have forgotten- just like I have!

Thursday, 23 September 2010


I have a fascination for flying. If Icarus's dad was still in business, I would probably have commissioned myself a fabulous pair of wings by now. That's what my paragliding is all about and I may yet have a go at hang gliding. I love to be flying above the world under my own steam and looking down.

An obvious extension of this is my interest in birds, who naturally have the wherewithal to do what I can only dream of. I like my birds to be huge, majestic, powerful and ever so slightly scary so it's birds of prey that I'm drawn to. Whenever I see the Red Kites soaring through the skies near my house I become transfixed. They rise effortlessly on the thermals and then stoop on their unsuspecting quarry with such elegance that I cannot help but be in awe of them.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be treated to a day's falconry by my husband. We got to watch the birds work and even flew a couple ourselves but the thing that made a lasting impression on me was not so much the magnificence of the birds but the passion of Mark, the main man at the centre.

There were nine of us on the course and apart from being able to recognise the odd species, none of us had any prior knowledge. So Mark began to tell us things. He explained about how the wings work, the intricacies of the eyes, that owls are actually quite stupid in comparison to other birds, how hawks think. He told us about the science of breeding birds for the market, how measurements are taken from parent birds to ensure optimum mating potential. He explained how the birds have to be weighed to make sure that they are at the perfect size for hunting and to make sure they are hungry. We learned about how their respiratory system differs to ours, how their beaks and talons work to catch their differing prey.

He talked and talked for three hours and I was left with the clear impression that we had barely scratched the surface of his encyclopedic knowledge. I was completely mesmerized.

And this is when I realise that what I have is a passing interest in the subject. In comparison to the deep passion that Mark clearly has, my enthusiasm is like a toddler's who finds a new toy only to discard it again five minutes later.

There is no subject on which I could talk knowledgeably for three hours without stopping. I might have been able to babble on about employment law once but these days I know a little bit about a few things but not much about anything - just a bundle of random strands of information.

And, if truth be told, I have no desire to learn everything there is to know about something any more. There are too many things that I want to try. I love paragliding but if I want to reach several thousand feet then I either have to devote the time to getting my qualifications or take a tandem flight as I did in the picture above. Similar result - much less effort. If I want to fly falcons I could buy a chick and learn how to train it or I can go on a taster day.

There was a time when I would have thought that such a shallow dip in to the water was hardly worth the effort but now it appeals. It means that I get a flavour of something new without it impacting disproportionately on my life. And I discovered that a Harris hawk can live for 25 years. I'd be nearly 70! Think how many other things I can have a go at before then.                            

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


I seem to have all but given up drinking. A strange conclusion to reach but there it is. And it's not an attempt to detoxify my liver or any of that 'my body is a temple' stuff. I just seem to have got out of the habit.

I've never been a massive drinker. Lack of funds as a teenager, lack of inclination as a student and lack of stamina as an employee all meant that the big nights out have been peppered across my years rather than liberally sprinkled. I did drink and had my fair share of hangovers through my twenties but they were nothing that a lie-in and a stack of carbohydrates couldn't handle. With no commitments until Monday, I would drink and dance away my Saturday night without giving it much thought.

But then came the children and everything changed. At the beginning, you couldn't have paid me to have a drink. Then, as pregnancy wore on, I would have the odd glass of wine in accordance with the recommended limits at the time. After that, feeding the baby and sheer exhaustion meant no drinking in earnest and then suddenly, child number two was on the way and it started all over again.

There was a brief period when I just had two children where I might have contemplated regular drinking but the fear of going to bed at 2.00 only to be woken again at 5.00 far outweighed any possible pleasure that the drinking might have offered me. And I had a horror of the house burning down and neither my husband nor I waking and rescuing the kids. A female phobia I admit but one which meant that I always made sure that one of us had their wits about them at bedtime. It was generally me.

And so gradually, drinking more than the odd glass of wine in the evening became reserved to dinner parties when I wasn't driving and parties that we could walk to. With almost everyone around me having young children, such occasions became fairly thin on the ground and my tolerance for alcohol declined dramatically, a few glasses of wine having the effect that a full night of drinking might have done in the past.

You may have gathered by now that with me it's all about control and so, after an unfortunate evening a year or so back when I said more than I should have done, I decided that there was really very little about drinking that I enjoyed. It makes me indiscreet, causes the room around me to behave most peculiarly and results in me feeling rubbish the next day. Where's the fun in that I wondered?

Now I sound all puritanical which I'm not really.But I have come to realise that all the pleasure from alcohol for me is in the first glass. It's that much anticipated sip of a crisp, cold, white wine when the children are all seen to and the evening becomes my own that I enjoy. After that I can take it or leave it. So I've left it really, for months now and I honestly don't miss it although it does make my rare evenings out quieter and shorter than they once were.

I'm not saying that I will never return to drinking to get drunk but for the time being it's not something that interests me. Good grief! Could I be any more boring?!

Sunday, 19 September 2010


You know how it is when you put things off?

I don't mean tackling the ironing pile or mopping the kitchen floor. I certainly put those mundane, day to day things to one side until I can ignore them no longer. But I mean the bigger stuff, the things that might actually change how you live your life. Applying for a new job, telling the committee that you got roped into when you weren't concentrating that you want to resign, starting the diet that is going to result in the body of your dreams.

I always find that the timing of these bigger things is more difficult to master. I need the auspices to be favourable before I begin. That generally means a Monday. I can't be doing with starting things midweek. Then I need a proper block of time that starts in the morning. I'm a morning person and my efficiency, productivity and resolve fail me as the day plods on. So if I'm not up and at 'em first thing then the timing is not right and the task slides off the schedule to wait until the gods give me a more propitious day.

I have two projects waiting in the wings for such a moment - the first could hardly be described as life changing and the second most definitely could.

Project one is my knitting. Well crocheting to be precise. Don't laugh! I told you it wasn't important but still it needs attention and I need the moment to be just right before I can begin.

I went and bought yarn in a valiant attempt to get me off the laptop in the evenings.But I need a block of quiet time to make sure that I start off correctly or the whole mission will be doomed from the outset. It's OK once I'm up and running - interruptions can be tolerated - but at the outset I need to count and concentrate. I'm still waiting for my moment.

Project two is more serious. My BA(Hons). I got the course materials last month, a large and scholarly looking pile of colourful texts. I have joined a facebook group of very friendly but frighteningly keen fellow students who all seemed to make a start the moment the package arrived. I have been more circumspect, placing the books lovingly on my shelf and dusting them each week.

However, I need a week in hand to cover half term so I have to make a start. Tomorrow's looking good. Nothing in the diary. Rain forecast. Pens and notepads bought and ready to go. So now I'm just waiting for the inevitable sick child or needy friend or household disaster to break my stride. In fact, if I'm really honest, I'm nervous about getting on and, although it's most unlike me, have been making excuses. But the time has come. I need to focus and begin. I must take the step that will influence the next six years of my life and I will take it tomorrow. Or maybe Tuesday.....

Thursday, 16 September 2010


My favourite television programmes are detective dramas. My children are horrified, failing to understand how I can enjoy something that is liberally scattered with corpses. I suppose they have a point but it's not the blood and gore that attracts me. I like puzzles. I enjoy following the clues, watching the twisting and turning story line develop and because my memory is so appalling I can watch the same mysteries several times and still be surprised by the outcome.

I can't just watch any old detective though. I am discerning in my choice of sleuth. There has to be something about them that appeals to me. Generally this is their intellect although if they are easy on the eye that helps too.

My all time favourite has to be John Thaw as Inspector Morse. I can't get on with Colin Dexter's books and I was never terribly fond of John Thaw in any other role but the coming together of the character and Thaw's outstanding skill in portraying the curmudgeonly and yet vulnerable detective draws me in. I must have watched each of the 33 episodes dozens of times. I know every twist of the plots and most of the dialogue.

After the two main characters, the most important element of the programme is Oxford, the beautiful English city in which it is set. There are countless films and programmes set in Oxford, many of them ranking in my top ten and so I have always felt as if I knew every college, street and passageway intimately. Except I had never actually been. So as a birthday treat my husband took me yesterday.

I was like a child in a sweetshop. It's a long time since I have been as excited as I was yesterday. We had a map which showed us a route taking in all the colleges and other buildings of interest. We followed it religiously and I pointed out the places integral to the various plots to my long suffering husband, who has never really shared my passion.

We even saw the film crew for the spin off "Lewis" which I adore as much as its predecessor. We had a glass of champagne in The Randolph Hotel and I took photos unashamedly. I cannot think of another place that I knew so well without ever having actually been. As I peeped out of my student room window and looked out over the quad of Keble college (for we stayed the night in the college) I felt like I'd come home.

So now I need to rewatch my Oxford related films so that I can actually place all the city's constituent parts in the correct order and the whole place will become even more magical to me. Oh, and don't get me started on that incredible bookshop.........

Monday, 13 September 2010


I am a planner. It comes naturally to me. I had my life mapped out when I was 14 and I haven't looked back.

My tendency to plan permeates every area of my life. From knowing where we are going on holiday to working out what is for tea it is all there in my mind somewhere. I plan everything. How to cook the tea and use the fewest number of utensils to minimize the washing up. Which route to take round town so that all tasks are achieved in the shortest possible time. Folding the underwear as it comes off the line so that it sits in the washing basket, furthest bedroom at the bottom closest at the top. I do it all.

But I do wonder how life might be if I didn't spend every waking moment thinking ahead. What would happen if I walked into town and visited shops randomly as the mood took me? What if I followed a recipe and used a clean bowl every time it told me to instead of reading ahead to see what could double up? I know that people work like that. I live with people that work like that and they seem perfectly normal ( although the unnecessary washing up thing does irritate me.)

That said, there are distinct disadvantages to knowing exactly where you are going and what you will do next. There's very little room in my world for spontaneity. I rarely do something on a whim and that's a shame because some of life's best bits happen by accident.

It also means that I am easily wobbled. This week I have a lot of achieve and I will be away from home for two days. There deadlines that are imposed on me, like the things the children have to do and a cake order that I have to complete. Then there are the things that I impose on myself. Generally, the world will not end if these things are not achieved. In fact it's unlikely that anyone but me will notice. But I have to bake and blog and write and prepare for my course and make sure there is available time if I get sent some work and clean and shop and cook.

And because I'm a planner and can see how long all these things will take I start to panic. I can feel it slowly rising in me today. None of this stuff is really important. If I didn't get to most of it no one would notice. But it is important to me. It's in my plan and it has to be achieved as efficiently as possible in order to preserve my fragile sense of self worth.

Sometimes, I think that I would like to live without the pressure that I put myself under by having plans in my head the whole time. But I can't. That's just the way I am. So I shall work my way down the plan for today as calmly as I can before starting on the plan for tomorrow. Because that's the plan!

Friday, 10 September 2010


The observant amongst you may have noticed that my little blog is undergoing a bit of a facelift. Those who know where I live will recognise my home at the top of the page, beautifully drawn by Wendy Sefcik, whose website is credited lower down. A more stylish look to my page has been long overdue and as I began my third year of typing trivialities, I decided that I needed something that reflects a bit more of me than Blogger's standard backgrounds. This, with Wendy's help, I am on the way to achieving.

My home is the focus of this post in more ways than one as last night I attended my first Neighbourhood Watch meeting. I live on a wide and leafy road on which there nestle, in beautifully tended gardens, some gorgeous homes. Mine, as the illustration above shows is more modest, my garden more thrown together and containing more than its fair share of play equipment. The disadvantage of my road I decided, as I chatted to one of the few neighbours that I am on first name terms with, is that everyone is shut away behind their huge gates and we have very little community spirit. And so the Neighbourhood Watch scheme was born.

At the appointed hour I turned up with my best smile at the ready. I don't mind admitting that I was nervous. It's a long road and I wasn't at all sure how many people I would recognise, let alone know. Actually, my nerves were wasted as I knew or knew of almost everyone. This is one of the joys of walking everywhere with a raggle taggle bunch of kids behind me. People notice me and generally pass the time of day.

The talk was led by the local coordinator who was friendly and helpful and told us what we needed to know and gave us freebies and by the end of the evening most people were chatting away as if they were at a party.

I have lived here for fourteen years and this was the first time that I had experienced anything even approximating community spirit. And yet it was so easy to achieve, people giving of themselves so readily. Even if the common denominator amongst us is the fear of a threat to our individual lives, at least we do now have some link. No doubt when we do see each other on the street we will now feel able to stop and have a chat even if the conversational opener is Ilkley's latest crime figures.

I am left with the thought of how easy it is to invite people in to your lives and what a shame it is that it didn't happen sooner. In our hectic and complicated existence, we often forget to make time for outsiders and I think that we are the poorer for it. I look forward to having some kind of relationship with my neighbours in the future. And who knows? Perhaps we'll have a street party next!!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


I've been shopping. I can't help it. It's that change of season thing. And so even though the sun is still beating down and there is no prospect of wearing any of my purchases until the weather turns chilly, I still shopped.

Today is the first day to myself since the middle on July and I have been thinking long and hard about how to spend it. There were plenty of options. I rejected housework out of hand. There was a time when I would have dealt with that first before engaging in frivolous activity but those days are well and truly behind me.

I thought about doing some exercise, this being something else that has taken a back seat whilst the children were at home but I concluded that walking round the shops carrying bags is almost as good for me as running round a wood carrying an ipod so I rejected that too.

Something at the computer was another possibility. I now have my course materials and details of the assignments that I will have to complete and some of my fellow students seem to be dashing on ahead. But the course doesn't actually start until October. No need to rush. And there was my book and my blog but, as I rightly surmised, I could work on those later. No contest then - shopping won hands down.

So I deposited the children and hot footed it to the station to catch the train to Leeds. I haven't been shopping for a while. I didn't really buy anything new in spring or summer, choosing instead to wear things that were already lurking in my wardrobe. As a result, the little fund that I save for unnecessary extravagances was looking healthy.

As is always the case at the start of a new season, I tend to make sweeping and radical decisions about my new "Look" which rarely, if ever, make it to fruition. "I will wear makeup every day and look properly groomed." "I will wear skirts." "I will wear heels more often." This time the unrealistic starting point was "I will wear something through autumn and winter other than jeans." And so with this mission in mind I hit the shops.

And I was relatively successful. I have bought some trousers - not skirts of course but let's take one step at a time. So now all I have to do is wear them. You see I know myself well. I know it is unrealistic to believe that I will wear foundation unless I'm going out. I also know that on days when all I do is walk to school and back and then spend the rest of my time at home on my own ( which covers a large proportion of them to be fair) then the temptation is to go for ease and comfort. As I rifle through my wardrobe in the morning, I may pick out a pretty top, a nice scarf or an eye catching necklace. But my legs always end up clad in jeans.

But I am determined to try. So what if I don't see anyone? It's good to look nice just for me and, who knows? If I'm dressed up I might even sort myself out somewhere to go.

My purchases are laid out on my bed ready to obtain the seal of approval from my husband and I have already cleared out some old stuff on the "One in one out" rule that has to govern my tiny wardrobe.

So, when the weather starts to nip and summer clothes are finally put away, look out for me in something other than jeans. As long as I don't change my mind and take it all back of course.

Sunday, 5 September 2010


Back to school tomorrow. Uniforms labelled and ironed. PE kits relocated. Shoes polished. Water bottles thrown away for resembling a health hazard. We are ready to go.

It always surprises me how quickly you can forget things, how one routine can be rapidly replaced by another. This will be the tenth September that I have arranged children in front of the hedge in the garden and taken photos of them looking squeaky clean and sometimes frighteningly small prior to setting off down the road to school. Term time is what I do. That's how my life is. The holidays are just a blip, something that changes the natural balance of my world, albeit briefly.

I run a tight ship in the morning and the result is invariably four clean, dressed and fed children out of the door on time. So how can it be that after a measly six weeks I have forgotten how on earth we achieve it? Sitting here now I can't imagine how they will all be awake in time to leave, let alone be ready. I have been up with the lark all summer, working on my writing before they get up and make concentration an impossibility. Generally,the little ones have not been far behind me. But the big ones?! I'm not sure either of them have seen 8.00 (the time they have to leave the house) all summer.

Give it a week or so, let all the activities and the endless ferrying and meals at irregular times to accommodate each child's needs kick in and the long lazy mornings of summer will be something that I will struggle to believe in let alone remember.

And what of the summer itself? Well, it's been nice to be relaxed. The kids have had a lovely time I think but the holiday never pans out as I plan it. During those few hot days that we always seem to get in May or June, I have ideas about long, sultry days by the river catching minnows, picnics on the moor, afternoons laid out on towels at the lido. It never tuns out that way of course. Sometimes,the weather turns bad the moment the final school bell rings as it has the last few years. In the cold years I don't fancy sitting by the river in my fleece whilst the wind whips down the valley freezing everything in its path.

Occasionally. we have hot summers but then the world and his orange wife descends on Ilkley. The trains are heaving with holiday makers from nearby towns and cities and the roads block up with cars double parked on every available corner. In summers like that I would struggle to find a large enough patch of beach free to put my towel down on and I'd rather stay in the privacy of my own garden and forgo the delights of the great outdoors, venturing forth only late in the day when the hordes have made their way back from whence they came.

This summer has been like the proverbial curate's egg. a mixture of good days and bad. Almost none of the little pre summer dreams that I had have come to fruition. It was either the weather or an unexpected guest or a complicated arrangement made by the big ones that kept us at home. But no one was bothered. I did suggest a couple of excursions only to be told that they would prefer to stay here. We seem to have been out of routine for ever and yet I can't quite believe that it's over and that term time is about to engulf me again. I'm not sure I'm ready. I have checked the start dates for everything and written down each evening's commitments on a sheet at the front of my diary but it doesn't really seem real yet. My real life is a bit of a blur.

I will be confused for weeks. Somehow, my brain forgets that the summer has gone. Autumn can be a lot like spring in temperament and I catch my self planning for the long break again even though I know it's already spent. I suspect that part of the reason is that I know that once summer has gone the next thing looming on the horizon is.....No. I'm not going to mention it.

So the children return to school, life becomes a whole lot more hectic and I get my days back to cram full as I will without having to factor small people into the equation. The table tennis table will fold away, the outdoor cushions will find their way back into the garage and I will think about planting bulbs. The end of summer for another year. But the start of a new school year with the all the dramas and adventures that that will bring. And the start of my degree! Bring it on.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


It was quiet in my house for a while yesterday. Suspicious of long periods with no noise, I went to investigate. I found my three youngest children playing a game together. Loathed to interrupt and risk spoiling their concentration, I hung back and listened for a moment or two. They were playing restaurants. They had the plastic food out and the till and a couple of notebooks in which to take down the orders and the youngest was cooking the food on the ELC barbecue.

It was a complicated and intricate game in which they each had a specific and clear role. Rather than burst the bubble, I left them to it and the game continued for a good hour longer. Happy days.

My daughter is 12. She is torn. She is surrounded by children wearing foundation, high heels, low cut tops and yet when left to her own devices she plays make believe games with her siblings.

I have long believed that as a society we are making our children want things that are not age appropriate. I remember being horrified when, as a new parent just dipping my toe into the whirlpool of outside influence, my eldest was invited to a makeover party. She was 6. There are so many things that a 6 year old would love to do for their birthday. I couldn't understand why the mother had suggested make up and said so. But then, of course, Pandora's Box was opened. They all knew about make up and wanted some of their own and a tiny bit of their innocence was lost.

Of course, people don't intend any harm. Several of the parents had no handle on why I was unhappy about the make up party. Harmless fun, they said and it may well have been. We all want what we perceive as being best for our kids. It's just that what that is often doesn't coincide.

I think there might be two factors at play. Firstly parents want their children to be happy but in trying to ensure that they have a great time, they introduce things that are not age appropriate but which appeal to a child's sense of being grown up. They think of what might make them happy and substitute that. Like giving a child chocolate if something goes wrong when all they really need is a hug. My eldest went to a little boy's 11th party where they had cans of non alcoholic lager. Clearly Daddy drinks lager when he's having fun so the son wanted the same. But, to state the seriously obvious. lager is fun when you're an adult. It's a grown up toy and to introduce the concept at 11. Well, you do the maths, as they say.

The second reason is one which seems particularly prevalent amongst mothers of girls who are chomping at the bit of teenagedom as soon as they reach double figures. I wonder if mothers encourage their children to grow up too quickly because they are anxious to get on to that next stage which looks so much more fun to us as mothers? I think we all do it at some point. A baby on solids is so much more exciting than a baby on milk so we push them on and tell ourselves something about waking at night to appease that nagging feeling that it's too soon.

And so as soon as the daughters might conceivably be able to walk in heels they buy some. It's fun to dress them up and the children respond so well because they too are yearning to throw off their childish habits. We all have this dream of our girls turning into someone with whom we can have fun, a younger version of ourselves if you like. It's like a payback for all those years that we spent on our knees with giant jigsaws or making play doh insects. We did that hard bit and now we want the rewards.

But they are still children. If they have all the things that I discovered at 15 and beyond when they are still at primary school then they miss all those years when they could be still playing restaurants.

Of course there is peer pressure on them to ape the adults but that pressure came from the adults to start with. We need to slow the whole thing down and let them be children for as long as we can. After all, being an adult is not always all it's cracked up to be. The time for being grown up together will come but I want to extend their childhood for as long as I can because once it's over then there's no going back.