Friday, 29 April 2011


It's Royal Wedding Day. Today the heir to the British throne (once removed) is to marry his university sweetheart whilst the whole country sits divided and either watches, enraptured or scoffs. It will be a day when the English do what they do best: pomp, ceremony, tradition. And I say English rather that British because I think it is a peculiarly English way to carry on. The marching, the precision timing, the hundreds of years of history behind every building, every carriage, every piece of jewellery, even every uniform. It's all part of what makes the English English.

I wouldn't describe myself as a Royalist but I have no deep seated objection to the Royal Family. Someone has to do it and I can see the merits in a system when there is unlikely to be an argument over whose turn it is next. What I do love though is tradition. For some reason that I really couldn't begin to explain, I take comfort from the fact that the wedding will be executed in this way simply because that's the way it's done. Somewhere in London there are lots of people who know exactly who does what and why because that's their job. Living history you might call it. I particularly like that the Royal Couple will declare their vows to one another using the same words that I used when I got married. OK, the rest of the do might be slightly grander than mine was but the essence is exactly the same. What was good enough for me is good enough for the future Head of State.

Although they have been sorely lacking in my social calendar for a good ten years, I love a good wedding. This one looks, on paper at least, like a belter. The couple are old enough to understand what they are taking on. They have already shown that they know their own minds and won't be strait-jacketed by convention when it is feasible to escape it and there have clearly been rows about the guest list and, no doubt, the seating plan. And let's face it, we need something to distract us from the rest of life in England which seems to go from bad to worse on a week by week basis.

So it's down to the country to give Kate and Wills the send off that we have come to expect. Middle England, with flags and red, white and blue face paint, cheering for all it is worth.

And today, assuming it runs as predicted, I shall be proud to be English. I will revel in my heritage that goes back into the mists of time with its crystal clear expectation of how these things should be done with no margin for error, no cutting corners and absolutely no compromise. There aren't many things in life that can be carried out with such rigidity and still be valid but an English Royal occasion is one.

So all that remains is to hope for good weather, that the bride remembers her groom's names and that no one faints at an awkward moment. I shall endeavour to watch the ceremony with such of my children whose interest it can sustain, enjoy the music and the outfits and no doubt have a little weep for the promise of things to come as I usually do at a wedding

Monday, 25 April 2011


We are just back from a few days in Paris. Spurred on by our surprisingly successful trip to London last Easter, we decided to venture further still and try and give the children a taste of the French capital. Foreign city-breaks up the ante somewhat as far as I am concerned. Not only do I have to keep my children safe whilst negotiating the unfamiliar transport system and ensure that they are entertained and interested but I have to do it all in French. It's a challenge sometimes, especially when everyone is tired and hungry and tempers fray a little.

And this leads me to the biggest problem I have whenever we travel but which is magnified when we are in  another country. What, when and where will we eat?

Feeding my family is an issue for me generally. Finding something that all four children will eat is hard enough at home. It's not that they are particularly fussy. It's just that they have vastly differing likes and dislikes. So whilst each child will eat a wide variety of dishes there are very few that actually coincide with one of their siblings. When we are out and about, the difficulty is magnified but generally we can find somewhere where the menu has something that will cater for each specific requirement.

However, this is not necessarily the case when we are abroad and particularly when in France. Wandering around city streets, carelessly perusing menus and selecting a cafe or bar that looks inviting is part of the fun when there are two of you. You can allow yourself to be drawn in by the sound of laughter, the twinkling lights and the couples lounging at little round tables and staring out at the street scene beyond.

Not so with four children. Even finding a table in anywhere that looks appealing is nigh on impossible. Instead of sitting outside in the balmy evening air soaking up the atmosphere and feeling cosmopolitan, if there is a table big enough to seat us all it is likely to be inside, at the back, by the loos. Not terribly Parisian.

Assuming we find a table we then have to hope that the menu has something that the children might contemplate. Shellfish? Game? Steak tartare? Snails? Hmmm. I know that I should try and widen their culinary experience and select for them. But they are hungry and the food is expensive. I just want something that they will eat. In plenteous quantities.

We once stayed in an all inclusive hotel. The food was all laid out so the children could pick what they liked the look of and if it wasn't to their taste they could abandon their plates and start again, leaving we grown ups to sample the local delicacies. It was a perfect arrangement but not one that I can easily replicate.

Needless to say, the most successful meal that we had in Paris was in a stylish Italian restaurant just off the Boulevard St. Germain. Now, the Italians know how to feed a family. Maybe Rome next time?

Monday, 18 April 2011


I make no apologies for writing about the mundane here on my page. Most of the time, that's how life in general and my life in particular seems to be. And so here you are. Some thoughts on the ironing.
Now, before you accuse me of being a slattern, can I just point out that my ironing basket was empty with all laundry neatly ironed, folded and put away just four days ago. This not inconsiderable pile has accumulated since then with bedding drying on the line and the washing basket contents beginning to creep up again.

 So, it would be fair to say that ironing takes up a fair proportion of my life. But it's dull. No matter how much satisfaction there is to be gained from a neat sleeve crease or a job well done it's still not a task that entertains you. I need distractions to stop it being a monumental drag.

Number one is the Sky + box where I merrily record things that look interesting but clash with something else that looks interesting or are on past my bedtime. Ironing would seem to be the perfect time to catch up. And it would be but for the fact that I have one of those new fangled steam irons. The plan was to get through the ironing in the blink of an eye with the vast quantities of steam that it generates. And this is indeed the case. However what it doesn't say on the box is how it is impossible to hear anything but the generation of steam when it is in full flow. This coupled with the fact that the room fogs up like an industrial laundry means that TV watching for anything but the smallest of sessions is problematical. By the time the volume is loud enough to hear over the hiss, I am a one woman noise pollution hazard and risk a visit from Environmental Health.

When I first gave up work, I harboured what turned out to be misguided ambitions of learning a language whilst ironing. I have a selection of courses for various modern European tongues around my house. My language skills remain unimproved however. Again there is the noise issue but even when I moved to my ipod, I found that I needed to see the words written down to follow what was going on and so was constantly breaking off to check a spelling or two. Hopeless.

So then I tried audio books which I listen to with great success whilst carrying out other household tasks. But my children will keep talking to me. First I can't hear them over the noise of the steam generator. Then I have to put the iron down huffily, retrieve my ipod from wherever it's hidden and turn it off. By this point, I am so irritated that the answer to whatever they have interrupted me for is invariably 'No'. Then I have to rewind the story a couple of sentences which I always misjudge and end up listening to the last few minutes worth all over again. One step forward , two steps back.

Now that the weather is warmer I may take the whole cha-bang outside where the sunshine and the birds seem to provide the requisite level of distraction. Or I could, as today, distract myself in other ways and just not iron it at all. But for now I must go and make a start. I may be some time.

Monday, 11 April 2011


I was in Manchester on Saturday for the first time in many a moon. It was a really warm day and the city was looking at its best. The streets were swept, the shops looked enticing and the sun was glinting off the Manchester Eye. Everywhere there were people relaxing and enjoying the space. There was a real buzz about the place and I felt like I belonged.

That's not as unlikely as it might sound. I did my degree in Manchester and although my time there was before the urban boom and pre-bomb, the basic shape of the city is still familiar. Sadly, I only had an hour or so to mosey around but in that time something significant struck me. It's not like Leeds.

I know. Ridiculous thought. Of course it isn't. They are different places grown up in different ways and with differing histories. But there was something going on in Manchester that isn't happening in Leeds. As this fleeting impression began to take a firmer shape in my mind, I started to look for specific things that might explain it.

Manchester is certainly bigger, its centre more sprawling but it seems to been have developed in a more consistent way which contrasts starkly with the somewhat ad hoc style that Leeds has. Manchester's public spaces are more continental in feel, its shop fronts wider, its finish more opulent. And it has a much wider cultural society with far more going on than we living over the hill have.

Eventually however, it finally dawned on me what was really making Manchester different to what I am used to in Leeds. It was the people. Everyone had a certain style. Whilst fashion was being followed, I didn't see great gangs of identically dressed youths. Although it was hot and people were dressed for the weather, I didn't see any jaw droppingly hideous ensembles.

And that was it. People in Manchester are just cooler than people in Leeds. And I wanted to be part of it. Not the cool bit. I'm far too long in the tooth for that. But the bit about having easy access to a city that's on the up. And that drags me back to one of my greatest fears in life - that I will leave Ilkley in a box!

Ilkley is a beautiful town. It has fabulous amenities and spectacular countryside on its doorstep. It has easy access to other places and is yet small enough to make it a remarkably safe place to bring up children. I can't imagine that it could be bettered on a whole range of things. But it is a very small town in a small part of a small country in a huge world. I didn't actively choose to live here. It just sort of happened to me but as accidents go I really can't complain. I could have done an awful lot worse. But when I go somewhere that reminds me of how different other places are, it makes me feel claustrophobic and a little bit trapped.

I'm not saying that I would want to move back to Manchester specifically. I don't. It's more that I want to experience living in other places before it's too late. I suspect that only then will I feel that I have made the most of my life. And if I say it often enough then who knows? One day it may even happen.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


There were tremors in our house this morning. I'm not sure they would have registered on the Richter scale but they were certainly felt by my children.

When I had calmed down a bit and was again capable of rational thought, I put my point of view to the Little Ones in these terms. "I want to live like a princess. You make me live like a pig." I thought this was quite clever and would appeal to their fertile imaginations. They thought it was hilarious, their minds' eyes visualising farmyard animals in tiaras and instead of tidying the offending bedrooms, they scampered off to make a jigsaw of a fairy castle which simply served to remind me how far reality really is from the dream.

The cause of this and, to be fair, most upsets in this house is that I do everything and they do nothing. Now before you side with me ( as you are bound to do) and reassure me that my children are all ingrates who don't deserve the luxurious lifestyle that I create for them, I should point something out. I do everything because most of the time that suits me. I am naturally tidy and organised and I can beetle round cleaning as I go in less than half the time it takes them. I know where everything is, how clean the bathrooms are and exactly what is in the larder.

Also, most of the time, my view is that they are children and shouldn't have to have their lives bogged down with the mundanities of adult life. They work hard at school and they are busy with the things that they do afterwards. They need time to relax, interact with one another and play. And so I facilitate that by ensuring that their home environment is clean and safe and entirely conducive to tipping the contents of their toy boxes out all over the floor in the firm knowledge that shortly thereafter order will be restored. They have plenty of time to learn how to sew a button on

Stacked against this is the idea that they do, at some point, have to learn the skills necessary to survive. How  to work the washer, the best way to clean a bathroom, how to rustle up dinner for six from the contents of the fridge at break neck speed. In seeking to protect them from the real world, I am no doubt storing up issues for whoever has to live with them in the future. When I think back to what I was doing when I was a teenager, I am forced to laugh at their piteous attempts. They do not even have a quarter of the household skills that I had when I was their age.

I have tried. We've had rotas and what not. But I don't have the time or the energy to police them. Maybe if they were fewer of them it might be easy to keep on top of but no matter what systems I set up, they always fall down after a couple of days. Coupled with this is my refusal to pay anyone for doing a task. My firm belief is that they should do what they do because they are part of a team, a cog in a well oiled machine and not because someone has bribed them. But actually its a very exclusive team with only one member - yours truly.

But does it really matter yet? Apart from mornings like today, when I lose my composure over another dumped apple core, it seems to work OK. Everything is the way I like it. They get on with being children and I get on with making their world work. Eventually, they will have to learn how to iron at a speed that isn't painful to watch but perhaps not just yet. As long as they don't abuse my generosity and adopt an acceptable level of common courtesy, we can all rub along just fine with me doing everything. But don't ever remind me that I said that out loud.