Thursday, 28 February 2013

Day Four - Science and Boats

We woke with a determination to get every last penny of saving from our IAmsterdam cards and got to NEMO the children's science museum just as it opened. Which was a blessing because later on it got extremely busy. In fact it was the only really busy place we went to the whole time we were away which isn't bad for half term.

NEMO is terrific. Loads of hands on experiments and buttons to press and explanations in both languages. Phoebe loved the water cleaning area where she filled and emptied buckets a lot. Tilly was very taken with the Chemistry Lab (she now wants her own apparently) where she wore a lab coat and messed about with test tubes. Phoebe didn't want to go in there in case she accidentally turned herself into a frog.

There was a science show at one point entirely in Dutch but very funny and dramatic so the kids enjoyed it. I noted with interest that a large number of children were laying on the stairs to look through the gaps. A member of staff came and ask them to move...sideways a bit. That wouldn't happen in the UK.

The only area we avoided was the "Let's Talk About Sex" area. I know, I know, I should have been taking the opportunity to discuss it openly at an early age where there are loads of things for the kids to look at, but after all I am English, they are only four and six, and I wasn't sure discussing a display of artist mannequins in different sexual positions was a way I wanted to finish the holiday. I also avoided the "French Kissing Machine" where each child put their hand inside a tongue and flapped it around at the other one. I am so British.

We went on the roof. Fantastic view and bitterly cold, but the whole place is fabulous. Highly recommended.

For lunch we went to the maritime museum cafe. We ordered cheese toasties for 4.50 euros each. The waitress asked if we wanted whale shaped ones for the kids which were the same price. I asked if they were the same size. She said they were smaller. I said no then. She brought them anyway.

We had promised that the kids could go on the boat outside the maritime museum but of course our cards had run out and the museum was expensive. But a promise is a promise and it was a great replica ship. There was also a show in the museum where you were filmed pretending to row and projected onto the screen. It had pirate attacks in it that Tilly hid from but it was an experience.

We only did about half the museum and could have spent longer but I think everyone was ready for pizza so Vapianos again for dinner.

On the way back someone asked us the way to somewhere. We obviously looked like we knew what we were doing. We didn't know the answer.

We played new logic puzzles before bed and tried to get to sleep early expecting Irish music at high volume in the night.

And then it happened. The night before an early start to catch the train and aeroplane and we had the worst night of the week. Tilly chose the last night to launch herself off the top bunk five feet in the air. I was worried about her so let her sleep with me in a single bed. Well I say sleep, I certainly didn't and eventually my protection instinct faded and I am ashamed to say I sent her back to the lethal bed. Then the music started and the bass filled the room. Plus Tilly had at some point had a nose bleed as the cleaners would discover the next morning when changing the bed. She didn't notice though so not all bad. We were extremely pleased none of this happened on day one.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Day Four - Traditional Netherlands

You're hopefully getting the gist by now that Amsterdam is ridiculously easy to navigate with children. This, and my determination that the girls would understand a bit of social history of the country we'd come to, led us to go on a day trip.

Wednesday was cold. Bitterly cold. The ideal day to go and stand in flat unsheltered countryside and climb up windmills. But what else did we expect in February?

The train takes you straight to Zaanse Schans in about twenty minutes and is a little bit kitsch I must admit but there is nothing wrong in that. Think Holland and it was there. Clogs, cheese, Dutch rural life  and windmills. Quite a lot of windmills.

In the clog making shop I managed to resist the temptation to buy the girls cow print clogs. They were 33 euros a pair so it didn't take long to come to the decision. Shame though.

In Zaanse Schans museum we started with cake. It was explained to me that I could have luxury cake containing raisins, sugar and fennel. I managed to cover up my horror at the idea of fennel cake and bought it anyway. Which was fortunate because she meant cinnamon. I can't criticise though since I can only say yes and no in Dutch. And "Help" because it's "Help".

The museum was lovely, if somewhat difficult to explain. 

After that we went through the cheese making shop and the girls said loudly "ugh smelly". I bustled them out. We didn't want any gouda anyway.

Then the windmills. We went in an oil windmill up extremely steep ladders to the top which had very little barrier around it. It was hair raising on a windy day but somewhat liberating coming from a country where there are five foot railings at the top of everything slightly high in case you feel the urge to leap off. Then we visited a reconstructed saw mill. You can't say we weren't giving the kids the full Netherlands experience.

I should at this point explain that Paul and I grew up in South Holland in Lincolnshire. I could see the connection obviously: very flat, very wet land that had to be drained, lots of tulips in Spring (not that that can be said of Spalding now whose flower parade now features quite a lot of cabbages). But it was vastly different. Zaanse Schans was flat AND picturesque. Which I wouldn't say of the fens. It was probably the windmills that helped. I'll be kind and say they both have a "lot of sky" which is the romantic description of my childhood county.

We had extortionate pancakes for lunch that were lovely and so huge we couldn't finish them. Paul drank Heineken. We were embracing the Netherlands whole heartedly.

The girls entertained themselves by making up incomprehensible versions of Rock, Paper, Scissors on the train and bemusing most of the passengers.

We had promised Tilly if there was time when we got back we'd go to the Van Gogh Museum. So we tore across the city on the tram to find it was shut and the exhibition had moved to the Hermitage. Right near our hotel. Cheers for that. A few posters near our hotel would have been helpful.

More tearing about and we made it.

I can honestly say I was quite affected by seeing several of the paintings. Specifically The Bedroom, and Sunflowers of course. But also those he painted on both sides of the canvas when he had no money. 

It turns out Phoebe (4) knows quite a lot about Van Gogh. "He's the man who always wears a hat isn't he?". Apparently she painted the Bedroom at school. It's important that they learn about Post-Impressionism in reception.

Tilly was marginally disappointed that Starry Night wasn't there so we'll have to go and find that in New York. She also asked if he did any paintings after he chopped his ear off. Turns out he did but I don't expect they were very cheerful.

The shop is full of his images on everything you can think of. It's a bit unnerving. And hideously expensive.

Back at the hotel the girls did sticker books while we had shots of Nescafe and longed for Yorkshire tea.

Typically in second to last evening we discovered the perfect restaurant for the week - Vapianos. On entry you are given a card then you go to each counter, choose the pasta and the sauce you want (or pizza) and they cook it in front of you. You hand over the card and they add what you've ordered to it and you pay on leaving. It's comparatively cheap, fast and tasty. Once you work out what the hell you are supposed to be doing. 

Always keen for movie repetition the girls watched Cloudy again and Paul and I hoped against hope that everyone slept well  and no impromptu Irish gigs had been arranged. We needed have worried. We were all so exhausted it wouldn't have mattered. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Day Three - The Zoo

Breakfast was disappointing. I'd bought cheese, ham and butter the day before and appropriated the remaining honey from Phoebe's lunch. Spreading butter with a spoon is a little tricky but needs must. Man I needed a proper cup of tea.

We started day three proper by getting on the tram in the wrong direction. It had to happen. We got off again at the next stop. The kids thought we were stupid as did most of the other people on the tram.

Artis is the city zoo in Amsterdam and is fantastic. We easily filled a whole day there despite the cold. We went to watch the sea lions being fed but since the commentary was all in Dutch we didn't learn much. Fortunately it didn't really matter. Sea lions still leap for fish whatever the language.

There is a large butterfly house in the zoo which helped with thawing Paul's hands out, and a massive aquarium which everyone loved. I was genuinely amazed by how interested the girls were in most things, particularly the babies. Baby gorillas are officially the cutest thing in the world, followed closely behind by a day old zebra, a tiny chimpanzee and a baby elephant. Well not literally or that would be more like an old style circus.

It was on this day that a few people seemed to assume two things:

1. That the girls are twins. They kept going "aaaaaah" which we found amusing. It must have been the matching coats.
2. That we were Dutch. One couple stopped and asked us where something was. We looked bemused then she changed in broken English and after five minutes we realised what she meant by "ice bear". There aren't any.

The only negative I could see to the zoo was the size of the lion and elephant enclosures. Beingin a city obviously gives it space issues that Doncaster clearly doesn't suffer from.

We left after the purchase of yet another cuddly toy. A Penguin named Artis who has since been sewn his own duvet. At this rate the toys will need their own room let alone their own bedding.

We came back on the tram and ate at Wagamamas which of course is brilliant for families whatever country you are in. Then it was back to the room to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on the IPad.

  Another brilliant day. Great day out at the zoo,  we had only passed one sex shop so far (and everyone apart from me had been looking the other way at the time) and no-one had been hit by a bicycle. Winner.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Day Two - Art and Water

There was a TV opposite the beds and the girls insisted on watching it before doing anything else on Monday morning. A good thirty minutes was spent with them watching a cartoon entirely in Dutch on Nickelodeon.

"How do you know what's going on?" I asked.

"We don't" came the reply. They still got cross when I turned it off.

Our "hotel" doesn't do breakfast and since we didn't know what we were doing we went in search of some and ended up in a patisserie. My kids thought they had died and gone to heaven. Cake for breakfast is up there with build a bear workshops and jelly babies.

It was at the patisserie that Paul and I discovered it is not sensible to ask for a cup of tea in Amsterdam. They don't put milk in it, it tastes weird and all hot drinks come in a handleless glass. Very odd. Nice cake though.

We walked to Rembrants house afterwards which we hadn't intended to see but it was a place to buy an IAmsterdam card and actually it was great. This was where Rembrandt lived for most of his life, although all the contents are replicas since he went bankrupt. We saw how he made etchings and how his assistants made paint. The girls did English work books and got involved as usual. It's to be recommended. Then we went to the toilet and I couldn't work the taps - which Phoebe announced to everyone in hearing distance on our exit. English fools.

We went on foot to find a cafe for lunch.

People will tell you that Amsterdam is a great place to go with children because the lack of cars makes it so safe. I beg to differ. Bicycles are lethal. I had a near miss with one as I tried to walk around a man who was pulling a pallet of something heavy. It was apparent that the cyclist's grasp of English, like every else in Amsterdam, was excellent. He said loudly "Oh for goodness sake". I suspect he also knew plenty of expletives but chose not to use them. I thank him for that.

We went to a cafe recommended in our guidebook (I do like to plan). It was a bit of an error as they were somewhat superior in their tone and extremely expensive. Plus Tilly ended up with chocolate sprinkles on French stick. She was overjoyed. I was wondering how much apple juice could actually count as all of her five a day.

In the afternoon we joined a canal tour. Despite the fact that the kids couldn't decide whether to sit indoors and overheat, or outdoors and freeze after twenty minutes, we all had a great time. The canals are a must if you're visiting but you have to sit inside if you want to learn anything. As a result I know very little but I have lots of photos.

After that we ended up near Vondelpark which would have been lovely in the Spring but was frankly freezing in Feburary. We flew a pocket kite (ever prepared) and avoided getting run over by bicycles. We then went to the Kinderkook kafe.

I swear this is a brilliant business idea: a cafe entirely for kids. You select a recipe from the cards on display and take a plate from the fridge and all the items and utensils the recipe indicates. I must have been tired or something, or maybe there was some instruction lacking, but it was not a seamless operation. We found most of the ingredients but not all the utensils. This led to me borrowing some squirty oil from a table opposite and smearing it onto the baking tray with my hands. Nice.

When Tilly had cut her biscuit shapes out we took them to the kitchen and they cooked them for her. Meanwhile Phoebe had decorated a cake with more sweets. We wondered when the kids would come down off the ceiling.

So the girls were happy. I was harassed and needed a hot drink. The cafe is bizarre. You simply help yourself to everything, which would be ok if the written instructions weren't entirely in Dutch. Or if being English didn't render you incapable of dealing with such freedom. I felt like I was stealing.

I located the coffee machine and stood looking troubled for a few minutes. No-one came to help (they were probably too busy chuckling into their hands) so I pressed what I thought was the cappuccino button.  Half a cup of warm milk filled my handleless glass. I tried pressing what I thought was the coffee button. Nothing happened. I gave up and moved onto Paul's. He  had bravely asked for tea so I pressed the hot water button and threw in a dubious looking tea bag. No milk was available so I poured in my cappucino froth. He didn't say it was very nice.

After a while I was so desperate for a drink that I went to ask for assistance and it transpired the machine was out of coffee. I felt like a bit of a numpty.

We took the tram back and then walked the last bit past a beautiful cinema that I would have loved to go to. Amsterdam were welcoming "Richard Gere" and putting out the red carpet. He wasn't staying in our annexe funnily enough.

At dinner time we found an Italian restaurant where the mix of Italian, Dutch and English both verbally and written on menus was a challenge but they did pizza and wine so everything was fine. The kids were pretty well behaved, but Phoebe was decidedly tired and kept throwing herself at me kissing me. We left fairly quickly at the end and as we gathered our things the man at the next table smiled and said we had "put on quite a show". I'm sure he didn't mean that. Maybe he just needs to work on his colloquialisms.

To bed and a night without Irish music had us sleeping like babies. So far so good.

Amsterdam - Day One

I tried in vain to explain where we were going for half term to my children. Every time I said we were "going to Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands" one or other of them honestly thought we were going to Neverland. This happened several times. I hope the lack of fairies didn't disappoint.

We flew from Leeds Bradford airport and due to my usual over planning arrived way too early and had lots of time to kill. Better than being late though I suppose. Although I'm not often late so I wouldn't know.

Phoebe asked if you have to wear the same clothes as you did in your passport photo. I liked that idea.

The trip was unremarkable. Phoebe had slept in the car. The girls loved the aeroplane despite not being able to see anything as it was dark. I did not love the pain in my ears.

On arrival we realised that everyone speaks pretty much perfect English. Which believe me makes life a lot easier, especially when you are trying to get a family to a hotel by train then tram and don't know what you are doing.

We were staying in the Amstel Zicht Hotel. Well actually we were in an annex and the "zicht" of the "Amstel" was pretty much irrelevant. The entrance to the hotel is beautiful - chandeliers, shiny granite, friendly receptionists. The "quadroom" on the other hand is like another building. Well it is another building. Accessed from a strange old archway and door and bang opposite the back room of an Irish bar. The "zicht" of the wall isn't the best but we didn't look out of the window much so it didn't really matter.

Our room was functional. One room with a double bed, a bathroom and another room with bunk beds (the top one scarily without a rail), a TV, some chairs and a fridge, safe and worktop. It was absolutely fine, but that's about as far as I'll go on the review front. It served our purpose.

We were concerned about the noise from the pub, especially since we spotted a complimentary jar of ear plugs. I kid you not. Fortunately 'Outlaw Express' weren't on until Thursday.

The girls were exhausted. Tilly said that she was sure the word "weary" was the best one for describing how she felt, even though she didn't know what it meant. I concurred.

Sleep went ok. I woke quite a bit, my brain obviously expecting Celtic music any minute. But ultimately it was a success. We were there and had managed to not lose children or luggage in transit. A good start.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A much needed night away

It seems a long time ago now but on the 15th of February it was our wedding anniversary. Nine years in case you are wondering. In the last seven years we have had the grand total of one night away without the children so I thought it was about time we did it again.

 Long ago in ancient times (BC - before children) we used to choose our hotels according to Alistair Sawday's "Special Places to Stay". He's never let us down yet so I chose a relatively nearby hotel recommended by his website, with a fantastic gastro pub. The Devonshire Arms at Beeley is on the Chatsworth estate and as such I expect we aren't their usual clientele  Paul doesn't own a pink striped rugby shirt or a gilet. I had forgotten to bring a fancy scarf. But sometimes you just have to stick out a bit.

We arrived in the afternoon, oohed and aaahed at the beautiful hotel room, had a quick flick through Horse and Hound then went off for a walk along public footpaths. It's unusual for us both to be on a walk without being constantly harangued for chocolate biscuits. It was just like the old days: I trod in a mountain of animal faeces and someone had put barbed wire where the path was supposed to go so we had to go back the way we came. But things are funnier when you are only doing them as grown ups and you don't have to rescue four year olds from manure.

The pub and restaurent were fantastic. I talked and laughed rather too loudly I suspect( but it was a bit too quiet so I overcompensated as usual). Thankfully Paul is used to me after 16 years.

We considered the menu which was full of fantastic things. Paul didn't think he could manage a "whole peasant" which made us chuckle, but we ate large quantities of meat and vegetables, drank wine and had a bout of thumb wrestling. The usual.

We managed to resist ringing Sotheby's about items from their catalogue, then went for another walk, this time from a book. We used to follow walks from books BC too, and often got lost. We didn't on this one thankfully - but it did suggest the walk was two miles, when in fact it was at least four and a half. We ate dolly mixtures without having to share with the girls and imagined how much they would have whined if made to walk that far.

It was worth all of it for the mist. It was truly magical. Bit muddy though.

Mum and Dad were looking after the girls and we are really grateful. It was the break we needed not only as space for us as a couple, but to prepare us for our next trip the following day, to breezy Amsterdam.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Homework - Week Four

Write poem or prose inspired by a child leaving a house. I can't write poetry ;)

My House

‘This is my house’ he thought to himself. ‘It’s old and creaky and full of memories. Whatever anyone says it is most definitely mine. What’s more this room is my room. Not Paul’s, or Sandra’s, or Jean’s, but mine.’

He sat down on the wooden floorboards cross legged and said aloud:
“So here we are again. Today is the day when I have to make all this clear once again. It does get a little tiresome going through this so often.”

Sometimes they caught on quite quickly. Rose did. It only took her two nights before she decided to sleep on the landing instead.

June had been trickier. Her nanny assured her that it was all in her imagination and she held on for at least a month. She moved into the smaller bedroom in the end. She hardly came in the room after that. Which was how it should be of course.

So what now he wondered. Another family he presumed. Or maybe a couple that wanted to turn it into a study. That wouldn’t be so bad he supposed. Although it might be a bit dull.

Clarence moved silently around the room wondering what mischief could be done.

A car pulled into the gravel driveway and he looked out of the window to see a smart black car followed by a removal lorry. The car came to a stop and the doors opened. Out climbed four boys aged between four and twelve.

This was going to be interesting. Boys were often tougher nuts to crack. And four of them could be a challenge.

Valentine's Day

You don't get the chance to let any celebration pass by in a house with small children. The excitement is far too much, especially for six year olds. I hadn't realised, for example, that I needed to be woken up on Tuesday with a request for pancakes at 6am.

Valentine's Day is of course no different.

Tilly came in this morning with breakfast in bed for us. This happens periodically and we are grateful, truly we are, but we just wish there was a small sign of improvement in the culinary department. Although I suppose I should just be pleased that she hadn't tried to use the microwave.

I came out of the bathroom and Paul was sitting up with a tray of food on his lap. "Tilly's made us breakfast in bed" he said smiling.

"I've made it for you too mummy but you were in the shower" she said. "I didn't think breakfast in the shower was a good idea."

I'm grateful for small mercies.

Paul had a bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes. Well less of the crunchy. She makes these first so by the time they reach him twenty-five minutes later they are a little more like cold honey nut soup with bits in.

My breakfast is often trickier. This morning she said:

"I struggled a bit breaking up the French stick."


"That bit has butter on" (I glanced at the pile of butter with some bread crumbs underneath), "and the rest is hummus".

Now we try to eat it when it's delivered. It would be rude not to. But I'm afraid I had to explain even I cannot face hummus for breakfast. Paul valiantly tried to eat a few spoonfuls of cereal before asking me to put it down for a minute on a high shelf.

I cannot express how much we love her. But her breakfasts are a challenge to say the least.

A few minutes later we understood the full card making process that had happened the day before. I was given cards with hearts and flowers on. Phoebe had hidden the one she made for Daddy in the shoe drawer with the muddy boots.

My favourite by far was the card Phoebe had made which contained a picture of a giant, a person, and angel and a castle. It was addressed "To Jack".

"Why does it say 'To Jack' Phoebe?"

"I didn't want Tilly to know it was for her".

I love Phoebe to the moon and back too.

So Happy Valentine's Day. Have a lovely day. May all your breakfasts be crunchy and hummus free. xx

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Now that the girls are at school I have some time to volunteer, so thought I'd start with listening to the children in Year Two read on a Tuesday afternoon.

I have been assigned six children who I listen to every week. It's rather strange listening to other people's children. I have one at home who reads brilliantly and who has never been frustrated by the process. I have another who is in reception and growing to love reading, but who often has to be handled a bit carefully. Once the screaming starts you can kiss goodbye to knowing whether Biff ever finishes his snowman.

The children I read with at school are all, of course, totally different. Some read well but their comprehension is limited. Some skip over tricky words and ignore me when I request we slow down a bit. One makes burping noises and gets sidetracked with his own six year old boy comedic plot lines. Another starting reading in his head yesterday. I pointed out that perhaps he needed to read out loud to which he sighed and said "I'm recapping". You can't say fairer than that.

We have tried reading in a number of places. The first week we were in the classroom but it was impossible to hear myself think let alone hear the words. This week we read in the corridor outside the classroom which was fine until several children came up and started asking questions like: "what's that thing around your neck?", "why are you here Phoebe's Mummy?". That kind of thing. It was quite distracting.

Well at least they are interested in me. I had been really unsure what the reaction would be.

The first week several of them looked highly uncertain at the idea of me reading with them. The second week they were vying to be first. I started to think perhaps I was actually cool. The third week I realised the ones who were desperate to read with me actually just wanted a distraction from the other work they were supposed to be doing. I felt infinitely less cool.

The only negative with the whole thing is that some weeks I get to hear the same book more than once. When that book is about a parade of lorries I start to drift off a bit.

All in all though it's an experience I'm enjoying. Even if I'm not as cool as I hoped. I daren't offer to read with reception though. But that's a whole other set of challenges especially if they are anything like Phoebe.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


I'm catching up here a bit so forgive me.

The Queen of New Beginnings - Erica James

The book is easy to read and probably ideal for reading on a beach. It isn't ideal if you are trying to improve your brain. It made me smile in places but is wholly unbelievable. It features a woman trying to escape her past by moving back to the place she lived before, and a famous scriptwriter hiding out following an incident on national television and some neon garden ornaments. Don't get me wrong I like a giggle, and I guess I did enjoy it overall but it didn't grip me and hasn't left me with any kind of send of achievement.


As an antidote I'm now reading Catch 22, which is sending me to sleep after three pages a night.

I have also read two children's books aloud to Tilly in the last couple of weeks which count in my annual log too since they are long and/or classics.

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

I finally felt I could read this to Tilly, feeling that she could deal with the idea of characters being killed off if I discussed it with her carefully. She was extremely concerned about whether the pig would be killed but ironically didn't seem particularly worried about the spider. I, on the other hand, cried. As usual.

I'm sure everyone knows the story. I had it read to me as a child and remember loving it. A girl raises the runt of the litter by hand and his friend Charlotte saves his life along with the help of an obnoxious rat and some fancy spinning.

The ultimate good review of a book for Tilly though is if it makes her laugh. She was in fits of giggles about him being compared to washing powder and having "radiant action". It was probably the thought of a pig doing back flips. So for this ten minutes of life alone I am extremely grateful.

If only I could write something half as entertaining and emotionally moving.


The Tovers - Elizabeth Beresford

I read this book when I was younger and thought the idea of magical characters would appeal to Tilly's current fascination with all things elfin. It's a hard book to read aloud as it has references to their own language and some tricky concepts for small people, but she seemed to enjoy it.

Essentially it's fairy like creatures, each with a different trait, living together despite their differences. It's actually pretty relevant from a society point of view.

I know you can't compare but The Wombles is of course her finest hour. I imagine it was hard to follow. But this is everything that little girls like - the idea that magical creatures live amongst us, in some cases helping humans out with problems. We liked it.



Now I like a rockumentary but I have to say I found this one more than a little depressing.

Apparently Anvil should have been extremely famous and successful in the early 1980s and influenced loads of heavy metal bands. Instead they disappeared into obscurity but carried on regardless releasing a stream of scary albums.

They decided in 2005 to make a documentary about how hard they try to be successful and how brilliant they are. We do have a problem here in that I cant stand heavy metal. And that I find men in their fifties playing heavy metal even more excruciating. At least he wasn't wearing bondage this time around but it still didn't make for pleasant viewing. The desperation was believable and unnerving, and there really were no laughs. Even Metallica's "Some Kind of Monster" had the odd giggle.

The film shows them working normal unskilled jobs (delivering food to schools) and going on tour in Europe playing to literally tens of people. Fortunately the lead singer's sister is wealthy and soft and she paid for them to record an album which makes up the second half of the film.

I imagine they did it on the slipstream of Metallica and ultimately the film has done roughly what they hoped. No record company would release "This is Thirteen" until the documentary proved popular, and then VH1 Classic did. Now Anvil have a new lease of life touring Europe and supporting heavy metal bands I have heard of but would never want to see play.

I suppose I should be pleased for them. The end of the film should have left me uplifted as they were seen playing a gig to thousands in Japan. The most I felt was marginally moved and pleased they didn't feature in my record collection. But then what did I expect?

I need to watch Spinal Tap to cheer myself up.


Monday, 11 February 2013

The other bits

Ok so I went away on Saturday. Over night. Yes you heard me right. That's the second night away from the children in seven years. I am rock and roll. Which was further evidenced by my destination which was Gibson's Rock Bar in York. But more on that in a minute.

I do actually love it when a plan comes together. I'd been trying to fix a date with some friends for a while when it turned out one of them was due to come and play with his band in York. I did wonder briefly about not mentioning it and just jumping out in a Cilla Black Surprise Surprise fashion. But I realised in good time that I did actually need to know the venue so I thought I'd better ask him in advance. Fortunately my proposed attendance didn't make them change their plans.

My university housemate lives in Knaresborough and clearly he couldn't think of an excuse not to put me up fast enough, which was good news. Another university friend was free as well as another lovely friend from a previous workplace. It was turning into a veritable reunion. Well for me anyway.

We started in a real ale pub and reminisced about university. It seems we have taken to saying we met in Hull 15 years ago. It's actually 19 years but I'm more than happy to join in and pretend I'm actually still 33.

During the conversation we discussed young people who see eating as cheating when on a night out. I have never subscribed to this idea. I like food too much. We went to a Thai restaurant. On arrival it was clear that there were no customers. There was not an occupied seat in the house. The staff sucked air through their teeth because we hadn't booked. Either that or we looked shifty. We promised to eat fast.

We went via another grown up pub to the Navacross gig at Gibson's Rock Bar. Which is apparently owned by a Pigeon Detective. The conversation that followed included homing pigeon theft. It was that kind of a night.

Despite the fact that one of the bands playing had a volume knob that went up to at least 23 we had fun chatting (when they'd stopped playing obviously - you can't talk about pigeons if you can't hear yourself think) and drinking cocktails. I haven't been in a bar that does deals on cocktails for quite some time but apparently Micklegate is the hen and stag capital of York.

They wouldn't let me buy a cocktail with the word alligator in it which was probably for the best.

Now, I am a bit biased but, Navacross were brilliant. We danced a lot despite me choosing to wear heels. We all wished they had been on for longer. Hopefully they will come up and play in Sheffield soon to give me another excuse to see my friends and to dance and drink cocktails. Or, more probably, beer. And I'll be wearing flats.

After lots of hugs we eventually left and waited in a taxi office. All it needed was a man who struggled to breathe while changing gear and I'd have been back in Hull in 1997. Back at the house we had tea and toast (without dairylea sadly) at two in the morning. We used to do that in 1997 too.

Despite the tea I was a bit drunk - I don't mind admitting it. The result was I went to bed with my supportive underwear on (just call me Bridget). I woke at least eight times dreaming I was on a health farm being forced to squeeze into size eight clothing. I've spent the following two days wearing jogging bottoms in protest.

I tried to leave Knaresborough at lunch time but I'd left my lights on. My friend graciously let me back into his house and made me a further two cups of tea.

It took an hour and a half for the mechanic to arrive and thirty seconds to start the car. I must buy some jump leads. Or just remember to turn my lights off.

I got home without it snowing or running out of diesel. Then I watched Nanny McPhee.

This night might not seem so incredible. To people who go out a lot it wouldn't. To me it was remarkable. Planning that worked, wonderful friends, good music and only minor issues with lycra and headlights. Brilliant.

Best Night in Ages

Now this requires two posts. One which details the nuts and bolts of my often slightly comical exploits, and this one. Which is soppy.

Maybe it's just us, but when we had children things changed. It became harder to for me mentally and physically to go and see friends and family. Worse than that there were some friendships which by sheer number of the miles between us got hit harder than others.

If you are on Facebook you will see the twee words of motivation that whizz past on a regular basis. Those which state what true friendship is all about. Whatever. All I know is sometimes there are gaps that don't make the slightest difference in the long run. You pick up where you stupidly left off.

I walked into Gibson's Rock Bar in York on Saturday night and finally saw a couple I hadn't seen in five years. Now I have a reputation for being soppy so it won't come as a surprise that it affected me. Fortunately we were drinking mojitos not gin so I didn't burst into tears.

We met about 15 years ago when they lived in a flat above me with no heating and very dubious electrics. They had a house rabbit, a camper van and time for me, who was living alone and working as a manager in a supermarket (it was a tricky time...).

So on Saturday they came from Colchester to York with Navacross, who went on to play a brilliant set (of which more later). I spent the evening drinking, talking, dancing and hugging them a bit too much, along with my other lovely friends who met me there. The only negative was the absence of Paul who had volunteered to babysit so I could stay away for the night. He was definitely the missing piece.

If I had a mojito to hand (not wise at 12 noon on a Monday) I would raise it then to old friends, and to finally getting a handle on life balance. In particular to you two. I love you to pieces.

There. Emotional post for the week. Done.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Brain training

One of the things I am acutely aware of at the moment is that I don't use my brain enough. With this in mind I have finally accepted middle age and started listening to Radio Four in the hopes that I absorb information while I'm making bolognese.

It was working quite well. I heard a book review of something I found interesting and instantly forgot what it was called. And I learnt a bit about bionic arms yesterday. I can't remember any of it obviously but it's a development.

I don't yet listen to the Archers. But I don't think that farming knowledge is particularly relevant in my current line of unemployment.

So I did my usual thing this morning or returning home from school and turning the radio on while I tidy up the breakfast thing. Melvyn Bragg was discussing the philosophy of epicureanism. Is this some kind of a joke? All I wanted was some gentle mental stretching not a full on brain gymnastics.

I turned it off and listened to Sean Keaveny. Thank God for Richard Hawley.

Surely there is a happy medium? I'm adding developing current affairs/cool alternative non commercial music radio programme to my to do list.

For now I'll try again later. I can cope with Woman's Hour but I'm turning it off if anyone mentions Latin. And I'm typing while listening to Athlete. That will do nicely.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Home Work - Week 3

Spring Cleaning

Every year we have to have a ‘spring clean’. Every year I try to hide in my room so I don’t have to help. Every year Mum says my room is a pigsty and can I please tidy it up and have a clear out.

This year I can sort of see what she means. It is getting a bit tricky to find things. I spent half an hour yesterday looking for a dice so we could play snakes and ladders. And I still can’t find a bookmark so I’ve been using a sock.

I’d better get on with it I suppose. The thing is, well, I like things. My bookshelves are covered with things. There’s that dinosaur I painted when I was three - I must keep that. Oh and a rock I found on the beach at Filey. I have fourteen books about science on the shelf next to a bit of rope and a small plastic penguin. I don’t remember where the penguin came from.  Sixteen postcards from Grandma from places around the world and…no I’m getting side tracked. Snotty tissues. They can go in the bin. That's much better.

But to clean and tidy properly I think the best thing would be to start at the bottom so I’ll take everything off the shelves. And probably it makes sense to empty the toys out of the cupboard too. And the toy box. Then I’ll know where I am.


Okay so now I can’t see the floor but at least I know what I’ve got. Ooooh there’s the dice. Now where did I put the game? There's a small stick – that’ll be a better bookmark. Brilliant.

Maybe this tidying up wasn’t such a bad idea after all. 

I’m hungry now though. I’ll finish it later.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Conisbrough Castle

I haven't been on a school trip as a helper before. Largely because weirdly I never chose to make myself available.

But things have changed and I am embracing all the freedom that being at home without children most days affords. I am listening to year 2 children read once a week, and volunteering for school trips. Of course it does depend where they are going. There is no chance I'm going to Cleethorpes on a bus with fifty children, especially if I'm not being remunerated.

Anyway I figured I could cope with a castle that wasn't that far away so volunteered.

The coach trip wasn't too bad ("it's not a bus, Phoebe's mummy" - I seem to have forgotten all my Transbus training) . This was despite having to play 'eye spy' and 'guess what I am' all the way there.

"I spy with my little eye something beginning with b"
"Yes blue begins with b but it's not a thing. What thing begins with b?"
"No not blue. A thing. What's smaller than a tree?"
"Erm flowers?"

and "I've thought of one"
"Are you a giraffe?"
"No. Can you ask a question to find out more? Like am I a zoo animal?"
"Are you a zoo animal?"
"Are you an elephant?"
"Are you a zebra?"
"Are you a cat?...."

It was touch and go with some queasy stomachs, and that was just the adults, but we made it there relatively unscathed.

The day itself it can be split into three sections:

1. The castle. It's good, everyone seemed to like it. It is a bit tricky to hear what's being said by the guide whilst trying to stop children from actually blowing over, but overall good. A small castle but interesting.

We went into the keep. It turns out you make quite slow progress going up lots of steps with 26 small people. And we'll have to go back as a family to see the view from the roof as no one was risking flying children, even if Phoebe was determined to see Mary Poppins on a cloud.

2. The dressing up. Once we 'd worked out which way on the costumes went on this proved very popular. Phoebe was a lady and for a short time afterwards had delusions of grandeur.

3. Other. As a helper you are given five children to look after. It is a little challenging when one of the children is a sunglasses wearing dynamo and two are the slowest walkers known to man but it went ok. I didn't lose any of them and no-one cried. Win.

If there are two toilets, 50 children who must try to do a wee and it takes two minutes for each child, how long do you spend waiting outside toilets? Twice? I'm setting it as a maths puzzle for Tilly.

And for future reference I cannot last all day on one cup of tea. Also I am not as healthy as school children. They ate apples and drank milk for snack and I was desperate for a packet of hob nobs and a coffee.

The journey home was fairly uneventful. Several of the children had collapsed into exhaustion, and Phoebe and her friend played imaginary vigorous pass the parcel for at least twenty minutes. Then we sang Nellie the Elephant.

One last point. It is probably one of the great questions of all time but why does it take so long for children to get off a bus. So long that the weather changes from sunshine and we have to walk home in the hail because they didn't get a flipping move on.

Overall a good day and we'll be going back as a family because Tilly will love it too. As will Grandma and Grandad.

 I take my hat off to reception teachers and teaching assistants though. That's another one crossed off my career options...

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Tears and smiles - the usual week

Stuff I cried at this week:

1. 'Les Miserables'. When people died.

2. A man talking about not being able to afford to rent a market stall in the new Sheffield market after being in Castle Market for 36 years. There seems significant irony in market stall holders finding it cheaper to rent an empty shop unit than a market stall. Maybe that's how the council are planning to revive the high street. No HMV, Jessops or Blockbusters but a significant number of butchers.

3. Attila the Stockbroker reciting a poem called 'Never Too Late' about finally stating his love for his stepfather following his mother's death from Alzheimers disease. Buy this please.

4. An orphan baby kangaroo being put to sleep on a documentary. I can't believe I got to 37 without knowing anything about kangaroos. I now have 'opening kangaroo sanctuary' on my possible career list.

5. Not getting a job interview. As an ex-HR professional I'm not altogether surprised but it still made me snivel for a minute. Onwards and upwards.

There was also the following life affirming smiley stuff:

1. Seeing old friends, eating roast dinner and receiving a mental daffodil.

2. Getting together with new and old friends, eating food, talking too much and drinking wine.

3. Finally booking a half term holiday in Amsterdam and planning routes around it avoiding the Red Light District. It was hard enough explaining the mating kangaroos.

4. A night out with my husband. Even if he did make me walk up a massive hill.

5. Watching the kids lark about with their friends. Tilly was dressed as a tiger all day today. She has gone to bed wearing a tail despite my recommendation to the opposite.

6. Attempting to find my voice. I suspect Gareth Malone would be unimpressed by my choral potential but hey-ho.

7. Listening to children read at school on Tuesday. It felt like I was being useful which is a good thing.

8. Receiving a positive reaction to the start of my story about a footballer at writing group. They might have just been being nice to me though. May change lead character to a tiger cub.

9. My daughter's reaction to Charlotte's Web.

On balance not a bad week. I'm going on a school trip tomorrow though...

Friday, 1 February 2013

Homework - Week 2

In case you are interested in my homework this is week two's:

Mikey Williams Versus Class 2

Mikey Williams was very keen on football. Well, any sport in fact. Watching it or even better doing it. He was not, however, in any way keen on schoolwork.

“Mikey!” shouted his mum up the stairs. “It’s time to get up, your breakfast is on the table.”

Mikey groaned, pulling the duvet cover over his head and trying his best to go back to sleep. He began to replay his last match against Rotherham Under 12s in his head with his eyes closed. Just as he was streaking towards the goal with the crowd cheering on the sidelines, something large landed on top of him, thrown quite forcibly from the direction of the doorway.

“Get up, lazy” said his sister Una. “Double maths this morning isn’t it?” she reminded him with a smirk.

Mikey grabbed his pillow and threw it towards his sister who shut the door just in time with a laugh. “You’re a rubbish shot” she called from the landing.

‘Never mind’, Mikey thought. She’d get her comeuppance in a minute. He would be all ready to go to school while she would be hopping around trying to find her other shoe. He’d hidden it behind the plant in the living room.

He hauled himself out of bed, shoving his feet into a pair of well-worn United slippers and throwing on his dressing gown. Double maths, he thought, why me? I bet Fernando Torres can’t do long division.
He looked at himself in the mirror. Maybe today would be different. Maybe today Mr Jones would leave him alone in class and pick on someone else. Maybe today he would ask Amanda a question and she’d get it wrong for once and they’d all laugh.  Maybe.

It didn’t take long for Mikey to wolf down a bowl of cereal and three slices of toast. He tried to ignore Una who was always one step ahead of him. When he was getting up, she was already dressed. When he was eating she was cleaning her teeth. ‘Why are sisters so annoying?’ he thought to himself.
“Una, why is your shoe behind a pot plant?” called Mum.

Ugh. Foiled again. He’d have to find somewhere better to hide it tomorrow.

Mum grabbed the keys and bundled the now dressed and almost presentable Mikey into the car with his perfectly turned out sister.

“It’s your school trip tomorrow remember” said Mum. “There’s an envelope in your bag with the money in. Don’t forget to hand it in”. She turned out of the road and Una switched on the radio. “Are you looking forward to it?” Mum shouted over the music.

Mikey thought it was best to say “yes he did”. That way she wouldn’t ask him any more questions. But why did he want to go to a smelly old museum. It would be boring, he was sure of that, and most likely he’d get stuck holding hands with Pippa all day. The teachers always put him with a sensible girl. He had no idea why.