Half term holidays

Sunday 31st October, 2010

As half terms go, I think we did quite well. I have divided our school-free week into a few handy categories:

The Bathroom

A success! Everyone made it in time. Things to remember: urgency to go is inversely proportional to bathroom proximity and/or cleanliness. Repeating "Are you sure you don't need to go?" like a toilet-fixated parrot, before leaving the house/café/shopping centre, has no effect (except on other people's perception of the OCD parental figure).

In Public

Overall impression of cuteness. No major incidents of screaming or tantrum-throwing in crowded places. Delight at having pocket money to spend. Well-mannered eating in cafés. Perfect family image possibly tarnished by disbelieving parent hovering uneasily, waiting for normal service to resume.

Getting Around

Variable. Successful walking to and from shops with only occasional untwining of Cian from my legs. No actual carrying of toddlers and minimal junk-food-based bribery. Slight seat choice meltdown on the bus. Pleasant train journeys (only one inquisition of a stranger, this miraculously free of inappropriate questions). One incident of puking in a taxi.

At Home

Not bad. We spent as little time here as possible, and when we did come home the kids were so worn out that bedtime was almost a pleasant experience: not too many trips up and down the stairs and I didn't have to resort to locking them in their cells. I mean rooms. Cian even fell asleep during story time one night: cue large glass of celebratory wine. For me, I mean. Cian was just tired. Honest.

Physical Well-Being

Pretty good. One friction burn from a play centre slide: insignificant, since complaints about the affliction didn't start until two days after it was acquired. One busted lip, but nothing severely damaged (ie. he managed not to bleed on the carpet). Taxi puking turned out to be an isolated case, attributable to London driving, not contagion.

Cian, asleep during story time Cian's latest split lip

Bring on the second half of term: I'll deal with accusations of drugged or damaged kids later. Oh, and I did change their clothes occasionally during the half term week. It's coincidence that Cian is wearing the same pyjamas in both photos. Really.


Wednesday 27th October, 2010

I love the funny words kids come up with. Some of my favourites:

  • bing bang for bean bag
  • pingping for penguin
  • Go-Go Pops instead of Coco Pops
  • niggly knees meaning ticklish knees

It's amazing how contagious these are. Especially since some of them are so unbearably cute I can't bring myself to correct the little squeaky voice asking me for a glass of busy water.

Cian's nickname is still Kee-oh. This is what Éila called him when he was born: Apparently the "n" sound is difficult for young kids. Except me. I actually substituted "n" for "l"; as in, "the nazy nion". For quite a long time. Even now, if, for instance, I bash my shin on a table leg in the presence of my mother, she's quite likely to say "Aw, poor nittle neg". Which is especially helpful when I'm hopping around trying not to swear in front of the children. (You can see where the sympathy gene comes from).

I'm assuming that my kids will soon grow out of their baby talk and funny interpretations of unfamiliar words (Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds on the way; Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on a steering wheel) so I'll continue putting shoe-shoes on their ickle feet and cooking them scrambly eggs for as long as I can get away with it. Or until one of them fills their ickle shoe-shoes with scrambly eggs and I decide to teach the little buggers some new words. What? You didn't really think I could stay cutesy for an entire post, did you?

i i i i i i i i i i

Monday 25th October, 2010

Doing new stuff is hard. I just handed in the first assessed piece of work for my Creative Writing course and now I'm having major confidence swings. (In the space of five minutes: My tutor will be bowled over by my talent. How could I even hand in that drivel?). I've been writing and reading so much that somehow all my benchmarks have disappeared. I used to have an internal Michelin system that would let me read something and instantly award it x stars out of five. Just lately, I read something and have no comprehension whether it's good or terrible. I have lost my sense of taste.

Apologies for the boiled cabbage flavour of this post. My point is that I have a new empathy for my four-year-old: she will procrastinate for half an hour over copying out the letter "i" ten times in her writing book. She waves her pencil around, draws little pictures, flips the pages back and forth in search of more interesting exercises, asks for snacks. Then I take anything remotely entertaining out of the room and threaten to give away all her princess dresses unless she gets the damn homework done in the next five minutes. Hey, I said empathy, not sympathy.

Okay, I'm done. Can I have my toys back now? I really want to finish reading The Da Vinci Code. I think it might be the next literary masterpiece.*

A little drawing

*My sincere condolences apologies to anyone who actually likes Dan Brown.

How to find a hairdresser

Saturday 23rd October, 2010

One of the biggest trials in the life of an ex-pat is that of finding a good hairdresser. Choosing a place to live, getting the kids into school, dealing with another language? Insignificant compared with selecting a stylist and getting high-speed internet hooked up.

I've been very lucky for the last two moves. In Houston, a stylish Scottish girlfriend introduced me to David. He miraculously translated my vague hand-waving and foreign mutterings into an actual hairstyle, while consistently remembering to say "fringe" instead of "bangs". He cheerfully cut and coloured throughout my whole four years there, despite the challenges I posed him:

  • Never having a clue what I actually wanted
  • Rattling on in British, including referring to him as a "hairdresser". (I think this might be a bit of an insult in American, where the term "stylist" seems to be preferred.)
  • Showing up so green with morning sickness that he must have feared imminent redecoration of his workspace
  • Not showing up at all for several months, then expecting him to fix the grown-out disaster while I fell asleep in the chair through new baby exhaustion

When we moved to London, I chanced upon Penny. Our language barrier is not so great and I no longer walk around covered in baby sick or fall asleep the instant I sit in a comfy chair, so, just to even things up, I decided to inflict the kids on her. Until now we've been going to a trendy children's salon where they have miniature cars to sit in while watching Peppa Pig, listening to JLS and playing with toys before raiding the lollipop treasure chest. I found the sensory overload nearly as painful as the extortionate prices.

In the adult hair salon, the kids were entranced by the enormous mirror. They liked being tickled by the soft brush, and they absolutely fell in love with Penny. This is the second time this has happened. When David and his partner came to stay with us earlier this year, the kids dropped me quicker than last year's fad.

I've been trying to decide what to make of this and I think I'll just keep it simple. Next time we move, I'll use my kids as salon lab rats: when they form an instant attachment to a hairdresser, I'll bribe them away with chocolate, then quickly make an appointment for myself. Now I just have to figure out how to exploit my children to get the telecoms company to move me to the top of the queue.

ToddlerTech Help Forum

Thursday 21st October, 2010

Hi all,

I currently have two ToddlerTMs. I'm having a few difficulties and would like to know whether anyone else has experienced similar issues, and if there are any known fixes? Unfortunately I wasn't really concentrating when my ToddlerTMs were delivered and I can't seem to find any documentation anywhere. The main problems are:

  • No volume control
  • No privacy settings
  • The waterproof casing seems to attract dirt like crazy. I can't keep them clean at all
  • v2.5 occasionally boots up at random times after being set to 'sleep' mode
  • v4.0 has the reverse problem, and requests shutdown when I'm right in the middle of something
  • The battery life is extremely short. The only application I can run for any length of time without recharging is TeleVision. I try not to do this, as I have read that keeping this on for extended periods may have a long-term detrimental effect on the CPU?
  • The user interface seems a little glitchy. It often takes several attempts to execute certain commands successfully, eg. trying to close down TeleVision or start Cleanup. In fact, it's usually quicker if I do those manually.
  • The default network setting is 'broadcast' and I haven't had much success changing this. Luckily, data transfers to third parties mostly seem to consist of nonsense strings, but I have learnt the hard way to keep sensitive information away from ToddlerTM.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be without them - but I sometimes wish there was a decent user manual.


002½ Licenced to Confuse

Wednesday 20th October, 2010

Today I had to explain at length to Cian's nursery teacher why he has been saying he's from Texas.

"Um, you don't sound very Texan." This accompanied by a doubtful look.

The problem is that, depending on their fancy, the kids like to claim any of four different nationalities: English, Scottish, Irish and American. They sound mostly English but never wear the Union Flag or any English sporting clothing. Cian has a kilt; Éila has a cowboy hat and boots. They both have all manner of Irish rugby kit. It's very confusing, and given that they are both likely to tell people that they live in a castle and took the train to Africa for the weekend, I can understand why there's some doubt at school.

I only grew up with one passport, not the three my kids each have, and I still have to resist the urge to sigh and roll my eyes when someone asks, "Where do you come from?". It's a nice, ice-breaking sort of question to ask, so it's a shame that I usually get flustered and deliver a monologue on Being an Army Brat, listing every country I've ever lived in, with dates. Cue the questioner backing away and making a mental note only to ask yes/no questions if cornered by me at the salad bar later.

Luckily my kids have much more of a flair for the dramatic. In future years, I can imagine Éila wholeheartedly adopting one persona for a few days, then dropping it for the next. Speaking in a broad Irish brogue and telling people she's a gypsy who was found by the side of the road and adopted; sort of a blonde, cute, modern-day Heathcliff. Dressing up with big hair and fake nails and saying "Howdy, y'all!" while organising a line dance. And I can definitely imagine Cian saying, with a completely straight face, "Well, I could tell you where I'm from, but then I'd have to kill you. It's classified information." I wonder: if I taught him that line now, would I be in more trouble with his nursery-school teacher, or less?

The f-word

Monday 18th October, 2010

Asking parents about food always provokes discussion. There's inevitably an issue - what kids eat, how they eat it, how often and how much. Our big one for a couple of years was Éila's egg allergy. Luckily, she's outgrown it now, but for quite a while we followed the paediatrician's advice and cut out egg completely from her diet. Not as easy as it sounds.

I think some of our acquaintances in Houston thought I was some neurotic health-food freak. In the supermarket I could be found compulsively checking labels. In restaurants we would interrogate waiters about the exact ingredients in a dish. We never ate junk food. At birthday parties Éila would show up with her own egg-free cupcake. I have been known to lunge across the room to snatch an illegal cookie from the poor girl's hand just before she could bite down on it. (I think these moments are best remembered in slow motion.)

So now, you'd think I'd be grateful for two healthy, allergy-free kids? Not so much.

"Please close your mouth when you're eating."

"Chew it properly."

"Use your fork!"

"Do not blow bubbles in that drink!"

I think you get the picture. I have seen an entire room re-decorated in spaghetti bolognaise. I know that when we eat couscous there is an optimum clean-up window: too soon and it sticks to the floor; too late and it has dried out enough to sweep up, but has already been transported on little feet to create an interesting beach effect through the entire house. You too would share my concern over chewing if you had seen Cian eating a banana: taking the biggest bite he can manage, then immediately swallowing, snake-like. I'm just worried he'll try the same trick with a Ryvita.

At least I don't worry too much about what they're eating any more. This weekend, Cian found a bowl of leftovers in the bottom of the fridge and brought it to me. He presented it carefully, in two hands, while giving me the big puppy-dog eyes. Uh-oh. Cake? Chocolate? No.

"Mummy, please I have the broccoli?"

Cooked vegetables from the previous day. Don't hate me.

Sunday 17th October, 2010

Breaking news: picnic table shortage in Fulham. Residents forced to improvise.

Wine glass on Mercedes

The path to enlightenment

Saturday 16th October, 2010

This week, an observant friend - we'll call her Miss Muffet - remarked that I communicate in questions. I do? I mean; I do. I'd never noticed before. This bizarre writing game is both introspective and exhibitionist: it's amazing what you learn about yourself. Let's see. This month alone:

  • I tend to forget which country I'm in
  • I'm worried about turning into a girly-girl
  • I have a thing for Handy Manny
  • I have grandiose ideas of calling myself an Inventor, although my real job is Laundry Slave
  • Don't ask to read something I've written. I might just take my clothes off or empty my handbag over you instead
  • My kids are freaks, x5
  • I'm an anal-retentive code snob. Translation: the website looks like crap because I made it all by hand
  • When it comes to the workings of the bladder, a little knowledge will send you running to the bathroom twenty times a day
  • I wish I had a chauffeur-driven Bentley
  • I miss having administrator privileges on a giant UNIX server. Mwa-ha-ha!

Yes, I think that about sums it up.

Friday 15th October, 2010

Uh-oh. There's just no right way for me to comment on this.

Home is where your hormones are set

Ancient Geek

Friday 15th October, 2010

Something strange just came to my attention. Yeah, I know, strange occurrences are strangely everyday around here. We're no stranger to the strange.

Ahem. The thing is, I've been out of the workplace for five or so years now, and this week was the first time I really missed something about my previous career. Not so surprising if my previous career had been, for instance, sorting cabbages. (Yes, I have done this before. No, I would not like to do it again, thanks all the same). In fact, I wanted to be a geologist since I was nine. I loved my geology degree. I liked my geophysics masters (except for vector calculus. Worse even than cabbages, trust me). I got a job processing seismic data and discovered that I was good at it and I enjoyed it.

Then I met Niall, got married, moved from Norway to New Zealand, then to Texas. Before I could set about getting a job in Houston, I discovered that I was pregnant. And since then, I haven't missed my career. I'm not sure I've thought about it. Perhaps because I spent:

  • Eight months throwing up violently
  • One year taking care of a tiny helpless thing. Much of this spent wiping up various unmentionable substances
  • Eight months throwing up violently while chasing a toddler around, and wiping up various unmentionable substances
  • One year taking care of a tiny helpless thing and a walking, talking, opinionated little madam (while wiping up twice as many unmentionable substances)
  • A few months doing all the stuff involved in moving us and all our goods across the Atlantic
  • One year slowly realising that the quantity of unmentionable substances has tailed off to almost nothing and my babies are no longer completely dependent on me

So, here I am, re-discovering the luxury of occasionally drinking an entire cup of tea without it going cold. My brain must have indulged itself with one final sniff at the thought of my independent babies, then got down to the business of finding something to fill the spare capacity no longer taken up with calculating the best kind of cloth to wipe up the latest unmentionable substance.

This week I was following some instructions on uploading scripts to the website and was told to change the file permissions, "using chmod 777," and I thought, Aw, a C command. I miss UNIX. No, it's okay! I was a geek before all this happened. You'll know that motherhood has scrambled my brain if I say, "Wow, I really feel like sorting some cabbages today. Maybe I could do some grad, div and curl calculations at the same time".

Is it odd that of all the interesting things about my old job, I get nostalgic over using the most geeky of command-line operating systems? I think, like the much-mentioned substances, I'll choose to gloss over this, and just end by saying: if you're searching for a Christmas present, a Bow before me, for I am Root t-shirt would definitely raise a chuckle.

The school run (walk, bike, bus, drive...)

Wednesday 13th October, 2010

I think I have as many memories of various journeys to school, according to the custom of the place we were in, as I do of the schools themselves. Here in London, I'm enjoying watching all the different ways people choose to get about.

Quite a few people walk to school. Kids and adults go by skateboard, scooter and bike. I've seen a lot of those European bikes-with-boxes; sort of a giant pizza delivery trailer attached to the front or back of a regular bike (the kids aren't flat-packed though, they have seats). You can take a bus, tube or taxi - older kids even do this alone. I've yet to see a school kid travelling by motorbike, but as we're still at a nursery school, there are probably laws against that. Of the cars doing the school run here, I've seen everything from a Mini (which would probably disappear without trace into a Texan pothole) to a chauffeur-driven Bentley.

The thing we're missing here is the school bus. They may exist in the UK (I'm not sure), but not in the same form as the iconic yellow school buses you find in the US. I took the International School bus for a couple of years in SHAPE, Belgium; the American kids outnumbered the Europeans and the ride to school had an atmosphere unlike any other. I loved it.

I hope my kids remember their trips to and from school as fondly, whether we end up skateboarding in the UK, taking the bus in the US, being chauffeur-driven in South-East Asia or going barefoot in New Zealand. The thing I know for sure is that they will have memories of some kind of school run. As much as they might like to stay in their PJs all day, homeschooling is not an option.

Boys, toys and bathrooms

Tuesday 12th October, 2010

It seems like at least five times a day I have to practically force Cian to go to the bathroom. He'll be playing, and I'll notice his legs cross.

"Do you need a wee-wee?"


Then they'll re-cross in the other direction.

"Are you sure you don't need a wee-wee?"


After a few rounds of this, he'll start hopping from foot to foot.

"I think you need to go for a -"


The hopping will get more and more energetic, then he'll lean forwards from the waist, still dancing a jig, still playing with whatever it is he's playing with.

"Okay, you need to go to the bathroom. Come on, please."

Urgently: "Mummy, I need a wee-wee!"

I remember, when I was fifteen or sixteen, our biology teacher explaining the difference between voluntary and involuntary brain functions. Things like breathing and going to the bathroom can (obviously) be controlled voluntarily. However, if you hold your breath until you pass out, as soon as you're unconscious you'll just start breathing again. If you decide not to have a pee for a really long time, it is possible for your muscles to go into spasm, and then, when you want to go, you can't. Our class had a very gender-typical reaction to this. The boys all shrugged it off, like "that couldn't happen to me". The girls all shared horrified looks, thoughts of hospital waiting rooms flashing through our minds. For quite a while, we all dashed to the Ladies between every class.

I guess by the time you have enough voluntary control over your muscles to be able to do this to yourself, you should be old enough to know better. I mean, you'd have to be incredibly stubborn, able to distract yourself for long periods, convinced that it wasn't really going to happen to you...

I think I'd better prepare Niall for a trip to the emergency room once his teenage son gets his first playstation.

An introverted parent of extroverts

Monday 11th October, 2010

Since having kids, I've become a big believer in nature over nurture. Some personality traits are fixed from birth, as far as I can tell. It turns out that both my kids like to be noticed. I prefer to be pretty inconspicuous.

When we go to the park, I don't often get away with sitting quietly on a bench while they make friends. Inevitably I find them telling their life stories to random parents, or I have to intervene when they start bossing other kids around and organising games. We draw attention just walking to the park, clopping along in pink cowboy boots and princess dresses (and that's just Cian).

This morning, I had just dropped my two off at nursery, when I walked past a little girl and her mum. As I went past, I heard the girl say, "That's Éila's mum". She obviously goes to the same school, but I don't know who she is. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with this kind of notoriety.

I suppose I should be grateful that it hasn't yet occurred to them to volunteer me for anything. The day my kids start signing up for parent-child events or dragging me up on stage with them is the day I quietly retire and suggest that maybe Daddy would like to take part instead. I think he'd particularly love the dressing-up.

Éila posing Cian stage-diving

Toddlers and Tutorials

Sunday 10th October, 2010

Yesterday, according to Niall, went something like this:

"Where's Mummy?"

"She's at school."

"Is she at my school?"

"No, she's at her school."

"Is she at Éila's school?"

"No, she's at her school."



"Where's Mummy?"

From my point of view, the day was a little like book group: a roomful of women discussing our favourite reading and gossiping about our families (although sadly without the quantities of wine that our Houston book group would get through). We also tried out writing from some different perspectives. I like the immediacy and intimacy of a present-tense narrative in the first person, thus:

I sit in front of my computer screen. I can still taste last night's curry and the desk feels cold under my elbow. Perhaps I'll just go and brush my teeth again, put on a cardigan. And a quick peek at Facebook couldn't hurt?

But the third-person narrative is also attractive, especially with an omniscient narrator. Because, really, who wouldn't like to be omniscient from time to time? (I would, just to find out who really drew the felt-tip marks on the carpet.)

She sits in front of the computer screen. She carefully picks up her cup of tea, brings it to her lips and inhales the steam, then replaces it. Still too hot to drink. By the way she's fidgeting, it's obvious she's not ready to get down to work yet. The mouse hovers illicitly over the Safari icon.

I'll have to pick one to start writing my first assignment in. Except, Niall left for Libya this morning, so today's work is to a soundtrack of:

"Where's Daddy?"

I think you might be able to imagine the rest.

A technical note

Sunday 10th October, 2010

I'm fiddling around with some stuff on the site. I tried a Facebook comments box, but it didn't do what I was expecting. I've added a Facebook "Like" button instead, mainly because it doesn't force me to compromise my standards quite so much. The more complex Facebook applications use a proprietary mark-up language, FBML. This won't validate with any kind of XHTML DTD, so I had to temporarily remove my cute W3C button. I like my code to be correct, and the W3C seal of approval makes me feel good:

"To show your readers that you have taken the care to create an interoperable Web page, you may display this icon on any page that validates."

Yes, I care. About you! The reason I'm so picky about something invisible is to make sure you, the reader, gets the best possible experience. Not because I'm an anal-retentive code snob. No, sir.

Two children and no car

Friday 8th October, 2010

It's nice not to have to take a stroller everywhere I go these days.

Microscooter Microscooter

However, with two kids on scooters, our outings often fall into one of these categories:

Reluctant days

Cian refuses to ride by himself and will only move if pushed along. This usually results in backache for the pusher (me) as I stoop along for half a mile or so, and headache for the pushee (Cian) when I misjudge the size of a bump in the pavement and catapult him off face-first. Uh-oh. Bad parent alert #1.

Speed freak days

Both kids set out with something to prove and disappear into the distance, heads down, coats flying. In order to avoid bad parent alert #2, where concerned passersby wonder whether to call the police since they've just seen two small kids out completely on their own, I have to:

  1. Shout like a fishwife until one of them hears me. Even then, there's no guarantee they'll stop. They may interpret the parental yelling as, "That's great scooting; go faster!"
  2. Run like a lunatic until I catch up (at which point, they figure out that it's a race and go even faster). The bonus is, we reach school in approximately 10.5 seconds.
  3. Take my skateboard so that I can keep up in comfort. Usually, the days that I decide to ride my skateboard turn out to be:
Mismatched days

One kid wants to trail along as slowly as possible, while the other is having a Speed Freak day. There are two possible outcomes:

  1. The slow kid constantly gets nudged in the rear by the fast kid. Bad parent alert #3 for, at best, serious bickering and disapproving looks from other pedestrians; at worst, wheel entanglement, face-planting and blood. (Yes, really. It wasn't pretty).
  2. The fast kid ends up half a mile ahead and I have the choice of again explaining to strangers that the small child is not, in fact, unaccompanied, or I can try to place myself equidistant between the slow and fast kid. The resulting carnival does draw strange looks: kid in front on a mission like a tiny scooting delivery rider; skateboarding thirty-something mum in the middle, glancing front and back like a tennis spectator to keep track of both kids; dawdling kid in the rear, collecting leaves, picking nose, or similar.
Acrobatic days

Just in case I had any shred of dignity left after all of the above, the kids sometimes take it upon themselves to entertain the general public by pretending to be in the circus. Éila usually gets up a good speed, then cocks one leg out to the side like a dog taking a leak, and rides along like that for as long as possible. Cian, being smaller, is able to wrap both legs around the handlebar post and cling to it with all four limbs whilst travelling along, like some kind of deranged mobile pole-dancing act.

Perhaps I'll just go back to the stroller. Who needs to go up and down steps, anyway?


Whose kids?

Thursday 7th October, 2010

At last the kids are getting better at rugby class. Nothing to do with their skill level. By 'better', I just mean that I don't necessarily spend the entire time cringing or pretending to be invisible.

The first week, Éila was new-girl keen. When the order came to line up behind a spot, she was first there, telling all the others: "Line up behind me, boys. Behind me!". All the kids were mucking about, stuffing rugby balls up their t-shirts, ambling about when they were told to run. Except my girl. She followed every direction, ran as fast as she could, stood ramrod-straight. And when they collected in the equipment at the end, she insisted that the cones be counted to prove that she had picked up the most. It's not the first time I've ever been Teacher's Pet, but never before by proxy. I bet the cool mums of the cool, rowdy boys were secretly jealous. Yeah, that's what the sideways glances were saying. Envy. Definitely envy.

Cian's first lesson was even better. The teacher asked them all to stand behind the line: Cian looked him straight in the eye and demanded, "Why?". I don't think a two-year-old had ever asked him to provide an explanation for his instructions before. At that point (no reasonable explanation having been forthcoming), Cian decided his participation in the lesson was over. He proceeded to direct his sister to catch, run and kick in his place. Which, of course, she did. Little goody-goody.

Now, three weeks in, Cian finally let me put his sports kit on him for the first time. He participated in most of the lesson with only a small amount of bloody-mindedness. And Éila's only moment of halo-polishing was when one of the kids was being told off for standing on the cones:

Teacher: "What happens if we stand on the cones?"

Éila (quickly, before anyone else can answer): "They break, like this," (picking one up to demonstrate) "and then we can't play with them any more."

I don't know where either of them gets it from, I swear.

How to Feel Good in Print

Wednesday 6th October, 2010

I'm hoping my Open University course tutor is going to be something like Gok Wan. In case you don't know, he presents How to Look Good Naked, a TV show in which average women are given makeovers then persuaded to strip off in public. He achieves this through a ton of positive reinforcement, and by finding a bunch of other fairly average women who are willing to set an example by also getting their kit off. It seems to be surprisingly effective.

Gok Wan

In case you're wondering where this is heading, I'm not studying Stripping 101 or Burlesque Performance 200 (the OU doesn't offer those courses. I checked). However, Creative Writing 215 does require me to post freewriting on the tutor group forum for other people to read and comment on: kind of the written equivalent of stripping to your undies (the saggy, greying ones, if you don't look out).

Freewriting is pretty much what it says on the tin. You can start with just a blank page or with a trigger word or phrase, then you write continuously for a set length of time without worrying about spelling, punctuation or grammar. You simply write whatever comes into your head, as it happens.

Spilling my thoughts, unedited and unfiltered, onto paper, makes me feel quite self-conscious. Having someone else read - and critique - said mental discharge is a bit like being asked to upend my handbag in front of a roomful of strangers. Imagine them sniggering at the deluge of crumbs from half-eaten kids' snacks, eyes widening in disgust as a crumpled tissue emerges, evidently used to wipe up something unmentionable. Trying not to notice that the shade of lip gloss which just plopped onto the table really doesn't suit me.

I manned up and posted my freewriting. Lots of other people posted theirs too. Now there's a whole forum full of wobbly bits, cellulite and people's personal hang-ups out on display. Let the makeover commence.

Being sick and cheap tricks

Tuesday 5th October, 2010

Following my post of 29th September I am happy to report that there's something I have no desire to do. Well, in fact there are several things:

  • Singing in public
  • Working on a fishing boat. Or any boat.
  • Ever being pregnant again

Wow. I've just realised I could summarise: all those things involve feeling sick. Public humiliation makes me feel sick. Boats make me feel sick. Being pregnant makes me feel more sick than I ever thought was possible to still come out of alive after nine months. Okay, sorry. I know no-one wants to read about sick. I don't know where that all came from.

The thing I realised I have no urge to do is to appear on Dragon's Den.

You see, I invented a clever little device the other day to help you carry your dry cleaning home. I felt rather pleased with myself until I considered the whole issue of building prototypes, making a business plan, market research, manufacture, distribution. I'm exhausted just imagining it. It's even more tiring than carrying a big bunch of dry cleaning home. So, all you entrepreneurs out there - you're safe. I quite fancy calling myself an inventor (in fact, I might just start doing that anyway. "What is it you do?" "Oh, I'm an inventor.") but I'll give up at that stage.

Just as well, really. I googled "coat hanger carrying device" and it looks like several patents have already been issued. Shame. But if you see one of these being touted on TV for £19.95, save your money. What you do is, loop the handle of a regular shopping bag through the coat hanger handles and sling the whole lot over your shoulder instead of trying to squeeze your fingers directly through the hooks.

How to carry dry cleaning without pinching your fingers or spending £19.95

Okay, feel free to mock. Just don't make me ride the teacups at the funfair.

Warning! If you read this, you may never see Handy Manny the same way again

Monday 4th October, 2010

Kids' TV can be quite disturbing. Idly watching Handy Manny recently (the kids were with me, I promise), I noticed out of nowhere what an attractive voice Manny has. Click the link, or check him out on YouTube if you don't believe me. Unless you're a bit put off by rating a rosy-cheeked cartoon repair man for sexiness? Surely not.

Handy Manny

Now I'll tell you the really unsettling part. The voice of Handy Manny (yes, I looked it up specially) is Wilmer Valderrama. He played Fez on That 70's Show, remember?

Handy Manny

And although he's allegedly quite the hunk, I have never found him or his voice attractive on um... adult TV. By which I mean television not intended specifically for children - not, ahem, adult television. I hope that's clear. Because if you google Wilmer Valderrama, you get the impression that he may have dabbled in that medium too. Hmm; perhaps if he wore the baseball hat and yellow gloves? "Hola, tools!"

The Princess and the Pen

Saturday 2nd October, 2010

I have noticed that there is a definite difference between how boys and girls play. At Éila's girly play date yesterday there were no reprimands for jumping on beds, climbing on furniture or racing around like lunatics. Nothing was broken. Cleanup consisted mainly of stuffing all the princess costumes back into the dressing-up box; bliss for a lazy parent like me.

I've been thinking about gender differences quite a bit lately as there are now only three girls in Éila's class of eleven kids. And out of eleven people in my OU tutor group, there is only one guy.

At age four the kids are really living up to the stereotypes: Éila always seems to end up with the nurse's costume while one of the boys gets to be doctor. Slightly worrying, but what's really bothering me is: as adults, how much effect will the oestrogen overload in my class have? Will I find myself writing chick-lit? Being a stay-at-home mum, most of the people I socialise with anyway are other mums. Will this tip me over the edge?

Perhaps you could drop me a friendly e-mail if you notice the blog colour scheme tending towards the pink? Or if the content heads for the steamy romance section? Not that I have anything against the literary equivalent of slipping into a princess dress. I'd just hate to lose my reader (hi again, Mum).

Where in the world?

Friday 1st October, 2010

I realised this morning that I'm living in England. Yes, I did bump my head, before you ask (thank you Cian for the enthusiastic greeting. I'm pretty sure it hasn't left a bruise). Before you start checking my pupils, let me explain.

You'd think the big distinctions in a country would be things like climate, language and architecture, but these become familiar in no time. It's the little things that really give you the shock that's talked about in relation to a culture.

Today, it was the local greengrocer grumbling about the grey, drizzly day while I bought autumn veggies ready for a big roast dinner. Add in the people walking past wearing Barbour jackets and wellies, with wet dogs on leads, and it doesn't get much more English.

In Texas, shop assistants would wish me a nice day - which I had expected; it's stereotypically American. But they actually meant it, and would follow up with a great long chat (with not a mention of the weather).

In New Zealand, kids would walk to school every morning with no shoes on. I used to do my shopping barefoot without any disapproving looks (about my feet, anyway).

In Norway, people would strip their clothes off with no embarrassment: you'd see women out hiking in just shorts and greying bras. I once shared a unisex sauna with a chap who followed the letter of the rules concerning covering oneself with a towel, except his towel was about the size of a face cloth, and he wasn't too careful about where he draped it.

Sometimes I need a reminder of where I am in the world. The weekend should help - a house full of Irish in-laws and two mongrel children.