Mums on beach

Twelve go mad in Suffolk: the truth about our mums’ weekend away

This is a public service announcement for mothers.

Mums! Get away for the weekend without your families, sometimes.

Seriously. Leave the kids with their fathers, rent a big house, pack a small bag, stock up on booze, and head far out of town one Friday night. Preferably to the seaside.

Make sure you go with a group of women you already have a bond with. For instance, the ones you’ve been hanging around outside the school gate with twice a day, five days a week, for the last five years.

Take a curry for the first night. As all communities of mothers know, twelve people each bringing one dish equals a feast. Bring also the wherewithal for a massive fry-up on the Saturday morning. And book a table in a nearby pub for dinner the same day – but do try to remember that you are ambassadors for your home town, and just because you don’t get out much, there are no excuses for leering at the locals, spouting potty-mouthed anecdotes, or repeatedly breaking into a rowdy chorus of Salt-n-Pepa’s late eighties anthem ‘Push It’, just because someone was inspired thus by the seasonings.

Do whatever the hell you want with your whole day off from motherhood. Lie in for hours; go for a walk; check out the shops; sample the local brewery’s finest.Why, if it pleases you to, take a stereo into the bathroom and treat yourself to a hot, deep, Bublé bath. No-one will shout at you through the keyhole because they need a poo and they want you to hurry up, so make the most of it. After drying off, head back to bed for a long, dense, mid-afternoon kip. Just because you can. (And because you probably need it after the previous night’s shenanigans.)

Walk in Suffolk

Um, right. So, those in fashion boots turn back, those in study footwear carry on…

Remember that on this weekend, wine o’clock starts any time you want it to. Bring fizz, in large quantities. And for a refreshing change, designate one mother to mix cocktails, in jugs. (Choose a Slovak, if you happen to have one among you, as they tend to be hard drinkers, and excellent cocktail mixers.)

Sarah and Amanda

Yessss! I don’t have to take anyone to football practice tomorrow…

Gather in the sitting room as the evening draws in, and fire-up the iPod. If one of you happens to have karaoke equipment, be sure to bring it along. At least three mothers will want to sing into it loudly over the course of the evening. Indulge them. They may not be allowed to sing much at home.

Take turns to play – loudly – your favourite songs from across the decades. And put on whatever you want. You are among friends, and no-one will deny you your Mr Blue Sky; your Bohemian Rhapsody, or your Disco Inferno. Neither will anyone think anything of it if you dance like you’re in a French and Saunders spoof. However, EVERYONE will be seriously impressed if it turns out you can shake your booty like Beyoncé.

(Of course, if you prefer to flick through a magazine, chat, or get quietly on with your beading, feel free to indulge in that, too. It’s your weekend!)

Don’t forget the number one rule: whilst it is fair to make a few jokes at your old man’s expense, YOU MUST NOT TALK ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN. Mothers who forget this and drop mention of their offspring inadvertently into the conversation must pay a forfeit. It’s funniest if this is a challenging physical task, such as ten press-ups. Better still if the house you are staying in has the Jane Fonda workout book on its shelves, and an amusingly tortuous looking exercise is randomly selected from it, and enforced as the punishment. Don’t forget to take pictures. These can later be posted on Facebook as a warning to anyone who may think about contravening the rule in the future.

As the night goes on, and the booze relaxes your body and dulls your common-sense, feel free to attempt things you haven’t attempted for many, many years. Gymnastic moves, for instance, or break dancing. Be careful, though: the general rule-of-life that no-one old enough to have seen the film at the cinema should ever try to launch themselves into the Dirty Dancing finale leap stands, even on a weekend such as this, and even if you’ve lined up several mums to make like Swayze, and catch you. Be cautious, too, if one of the mums is a Personal Trainer. She may not know her own strength and allowing her to wrestle you to the ground, pick you up by your feet, or toss you like a caber is likely to cause severe pain up and down your body, which will not fully kick in until the Monday.

Gymnastics

Whatever you do, Mrs P….DON’T VOMIT NOW!

Ooh, and don’t forget to tell ghost stories – particularly if the guest book of the property you are staying in reveals that the house is haunted. In the midst of the tale, be sure to allocate a victim, and a joker who will hide behind her chair for a goodly while, before jumping up suddenly and shouting WOOOOO WOOOOO WOOOOO  in her ear, loudly.

On the day of departure, reminisce fondly about the weekend over a reheated curry brunch, and pledge to come again the following year. Tidy up and clean the property thoroughly and with gusto, as only a team of twelve fully refreshed domestic experts can.

Do text your family on the way home to let them know you’re on your way, and that you’ve missed them.

And finally, if one of you is a blogger, don’t forget to remind her that….

WHAT GOES ON TOUR, STAYS ON TOUR.

Hmmmm.

Suffolk

Cheers, m’dears!

Memo

In which I send my daughters a memo

MEMO

TO: MISSES P YOUNGER AND ELDER

FROM: MUMMY

CC: DADDY; NANA

RE: CHORES AND POCKET MONEY

DATE: SUNDAY JANUARY 14th 2013

 

I have created a document which will allow us to chart pocket money payments on a weekly basis, as I know these have been erratic until now.

The new charts are displayed in a prominent position on the fridge.

Pocket money rates have been increased as of 2013 and now stand as follows:

  • MISS P ELDER           £2.50 p/w
  • MISS P YOUNGER   £2.00 p/w

You may save or spend your pocket money as you wish but sweet purchases must be approved in advance by me. PLEASE MAKE SURE YOUR POCKET MONEY IS CAREFULLY STORED IN YOUR MONEY BOXES – IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY NOT TO LOSE IT.

You will receive your pocket money every Sunday morning, once I am satisfied that:

  • You have completed all your rabbit duties for the week. This INCLUDES feeding them, changing their water, and helping Nana to clean out the hutch on alternate Saturdays (see the rota). Please note their revised dietary schedule in accordance with recent advice from the Weight Watchers coordinator at the veterinary surgery.
  • You have done the chores required of you in the week prior to payment. These include setting the table and clearing the table daily, putting all laundry away, and one other weekly task which could include polishing, washing the car, or cleaning the bath and sink.
  • Your bedroom is tidy. By my standards, not yours. This means: all clothes put away or in the laundry basket; floors clear; beds made; and desks tidy.

 

I would be most grateful for your co-operation in these matters. Please see me if you have any questions.

 

Angels cropped

The eleven cards of Christmas

It all started just before Miss P the elder’s first Christmas, eleven years ago.

For a reason I can no longer recall, I vowed to take a personal approach to the season’s greetings and made my own cards, featuring a three-month-old Miss P wearing a Santa hat and a slightly stroppy expression. It went down well with relatives at the higher end of the age spectrum, but boy, did it turn out to be a rod for my own back, since thereafter I was forced to spend many hours of my life in the weeks prior to Christmas attempting to better the previous year’s card.

After that first, frankly amateurish attempt, I felt compelled to up the quality stakes and – with a little technical aid from someone cleverer than I – went digital. Adding a cheesy caption also seemed, at the time, to be the right thing to do.

2002

I was anxious to retain that homemade feel though (and also, I was a total sucker), which meant cutting and pasting – in the old fashioned sense, I mean – each picture onto around eighty blank cards. This was a process that left me covered in a sticky film of Spray Mount, nauseous, and emotionally drained for days afterwards. (And you’ve got to remember – this is all BEFORE reaching the stamp-licking stage.)

But still. As with the baby Jesus, something important had been born. There was no question that I’d pick it up and run with it the following year, too…

2003

And – with the addition to our family of Miss P the Younger adding a new dimension to the whole project – the year after that, too…

2004

Possibly the whole concept was starting to lose appeal in 2005 – or maybe I just felt like sticking my neck out and trying something a bit more abstract…

2005

Either way, it was back to angels again the following Christmas. By now though, the natives were getting restless – coaxing the girls into their costumes and extracting a smile out of them was not the simple matter it had been in years gone by, and now necessitated the use of bribery to recruit them…

2006

And yes, ok, it’s true, by the time 2007 rolled round, I was definitely starting to dread the whole thing somewhat. It was basically a huge amount of hassle, and it was flippin’ expensive, too – by the time I’d paid for props, printing and materials, I could easily have bought many dozens of bumper selection boxes from W H Smiths. Maybe I should have cut my losses sooner. Except…I COULDN’T jack it in. I couldn’t draw a line under it. I’d started something I didn’t know how to stop. Partly because I didn’t want people to think I was copping out and partly because I didn’t want to give my detractors satisfaction by quitting. And oh yes, there were detractors. Even though no-one had ever actually come out to say so, I just KNEW that some recipients deemed my homemade cards tacky. Exploitative, even. Others clearly thought I was mad to expend so much time and effort on it. All of which drove me on into 2007 – I HAD to prove to those doubting bastards that this worthwhile tradition would be carried on AS LONG AS I LIVED AND BREATHED….

 

2007

Perhaps. Because, Lordy, it was hard coming up with those captions, and harder still to get the girls to agree to dress up and pose like eejits. So hard, that I gave up on both in 2008 and went for something simpler, instead.

2008

But hey. I got a little resurgence of energy, and a boost of enthusiasm, in 2009. The girls were right up for it, too, for a change. (That isn’t my joke, by the way…s’funny, though, innit?)

2009

It did turn out to be my last, however. I finally got beaten down by lack of imagination, apathy, and the conviction that one day, the girls would seek payback. (Visions of a family Christmas card featuring me, naked from the waist up, but for a pair of oversized baubles to cover my dignity, haunted me.)

So in 2010, I gave up on Christmas cards, entirely. I couldn’t bring myself to buy that bumper selection pack, so instead, I emailed personal greetings to everyone who mattered and doesn’t live near by, and verbally wished my local friends the very best. Then I gave the £40 I would probably have spent in getting my homemade cards out to charity, instead.

And just like that, a new tradition was born.

Me and Ali

Let’s hear it for the 1980s…

Ooh, I am most grateful to Sticky Fingers’ Tara this week, because I’ve been a bit slack on the blog front lately, and I needed something fluffy and fun to inspire me back to the helm of the old dashboard again. Her 80s themed gallery is just the thing, I think: it’s had me chuckling away and nodding in nostalgic recognition of all the highs and lows that defined the decade for me.

So here we go, here’s a shot from the pubescent days of the early eighties. I don’t think my dear friend Sarah will mind me posting this picture of us both here, even though this was in the days before her mum let her grow her lovely curly hair long, and made her wear hand knitted jumpers with ponies on the front. I’ll say nothing about my own basin cut and strange pinafore/anorak combo – it speaks for itself I think. But how sweet and innocent we look. And rather delightfully, she is still a good friend to this day.

I’m bored of ponies and swing-ball now. Shall we start snogging boys and drinking illegally?

Okay, well, let’s scroll on a few years to, I dunno, 1984 I guess, and a point at which I’d discovered eyeliner, hair gel, and – somewhat unfathomably – oversized old men’s coats from charity shops. I clearly remember wearing this garment without any irony whatsoever – and no apparent problem with the whiff of senior-citizen’s-armpit that emanated from it. Weird.

What do you mean, that coat is 14 sizes too big? I’ll have you know I had to mug a pensioner for it…

I think this one’s from a similar time. Not sure how old I am in it – although, not old enough to be smoking that mahoosive doobie I’m holding, I’ll wager.

Smoking this is the only thing that gets me through a whole Dire Straits album…

Here I am sitting astride my first boyfriend Gavin’s Lambretta, circa 1986. He used to drive to my house every single evening during our two year relationship – and thanks to the noisy chug-chug of his scooter, I knew he was coming from at least a mile away.

Not really a mod. Just wish I was.

Finally, if you were wondering about the featured image, I can tell you that it’s me and another dear friend, Alison (yep – still very much in touch) in Corfu in 1987, the summer after we’d finished our A levels. In spite of being expressly warned by our mums not to hire a moped, we hired a moped. Pretty sure we did a host of other things they warned us not to, as well.

At the time it felt like a decade of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and floundering. In retrospect, it looks pretty good….

002

Farewell, school run. I’m going to miss you.

Well. It wasn’t supposed to happen just yet. I’ve made my final school run.

No longer shall I routinely tread those well-worn steps towards ‘the gates’ of a morning, and back again, come the afternoon.

It’s crept up on me suddenly, this game changer, and earlier than I thought.

I assumed I would check permanently out of the regular run next summer, when Miss P the younger leaves lower school. Until then, I reckoned on another nine months of school-running ahead of me still.

However, in a recent, and speedy turnaround of fortune, I got a proper job. So now I’m going to have to ask someone else to escort my littlest girl to school at half past eight every morning, and bring her home again at half past three.

I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

The school run is something I’ve done twice every term-time weekday since the elder Miss P started her formal education in September 2006. I’m not very good at maths, but I make that a rough total of 2,520 school runs – or, 5040 single journeys either to school or back again. That’s a pretty big part of my life.

And yes, we do sometimes arrive late, sweating and stressed out at drop-off because we’ve got behind schedule or had to rush back for forgotten mufti money or reading books or trumpet cases. And occasionally, yes, I have entirely lost track of the time whilst working at home and forgotten to head out for pick-up, necessitating a frantic begging call to the first available person I can find who will step in and scoop up my neglected offspring for me.

But although it does at times go pear-shaped, and I have been heard to grumble about the tedium factor involved in this twice-daily commitment, the truth is, I’m going to miss the comfort, structure, and camaraderie it provides.

Some mums say they have a miserable time of it at the school gates, what with the Bitchy Cliques and the PTA Dragons and the Competitive Parents that apparently populate playgrounds.

Me, I’ve never fallen foul of any of those sorts at our lovely lower school.

I actively look forward to turning up in the mornings and afternoons, knowing that several dozen faces are without fail going to loom into view with a smile and a cheery greeting. Quite a few of these faces belong to people I’m glad I can call friends beyond the school gates. I’ll miss this catch-up time with them very much.

It may also take a while to get used to the fact that it will no longer be me saying goodbye, and hello, to the younger Miss P at the start and end of her school day. I knew I’d have to face up to that finishing sooner or later. But sooner’s going to be a tough call.

Anyhoo. Excuse me. I think I’ve got something in my eye. Farewell, school run.

*blows noisily into hanky.*

Maths 006

Me + maths = :(

So, I was applying for a job the other week (long story), and on dredging my mind in order to list my qualifications, was reminded of my ignominious lack of achievement in mathematics: I left school secured of a deeply underwhelming CSE grade 3. (I did take also take an O level but as my result for this was a U – unclassified, or #epicfail, to use the modern vernacular – I assumed the sensible thing would be to leave it off the list altogether.)

If you want to know the truth about how I cocked up quite so spectacularly, I’m afraid I don’t know. Maths has always equalled utter tedium to me. I also suspect I was a teen who was hell-bent generally on underachieving, in order to truly piss off all those around me who expected otherwise.

But anyhoo, it’s never really mattered much before. In my previous jobs, all I had to prove was that I could string a sentence together. No-one ever demanded I make the numbers add up. And I’ve been my own boss for the last eleven years, continuing to scribble for a living. So apart from whilst tackling the tortuous annual completion of my tax return, I have not been troubled at all by a need for numeracy.

I feel a bit ashamed about it now, though. When I ‘fessed up on Facebook as to my numbskullery, there was some shaking of heads and a negative hum which left me wondering if this long-buried lack of maths mastery might really stand against me in a cluttered and competitive jobs market.

So I made a Sensible Decision. (And you’ve got to give me credit for this readers, because I’m not usually one for Sensible Decisions.) I popped along to see the nice adult learning lady at my local library and she signed me up, there and then, for a free part-time course which I’m told could earn me a qualification that’s equivalent to a GCSE.  And you know what? She made me take an assessment and I got 23 out of 25, putting me straight in at level 2 and at an advantage from the start, apparently. Woop.

All of which is how I came to be clutching my oversized calculator, an empty file, and a One Direction pencil case*, and psyching myself up for the first of 15 two-and-a-half hour Tuesday night maths lessons. (Making a total of…um, um….well, let’s call it quite a lot of hours of maths altogether.)

Naturally the Misses P think it’s all very funny and have been feverishly setting me tasks in adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing all weekend. By the way, did you know that all these things are done in a completely different way nowadays, with mysterious working-out aids known as column methods and number lines and ‘I Know’ boxes? I have now been instructed in ‘the new ways’ and let’s just say that I would NEVER have got an ungraded O level if I had known about them earlier. Possibly.

Wish me luck, anyway. I’m going to need it.

 

*Not actually true. I don’t really have a One Direction pencil case.

 

E

Stop making me feel guilty about screen time, Dr Sigman.

It’s not the first time he’s stuck his neck out to worry parents about their children’s screen habits (among other things), but ‘leading psychologist’ Aric Sigman is back in the news this week with his latest call for kids to stop spending quite so much time goggling at the tellybox, surfing the t’interweb, and clicking on their consoles. In short, he’s urging parents (again) to impose far stricter limits on screen time.

I’m not an expert (as I think I MAY have mentioned), so I’m not going to question the science behind Dr Sigman’s findings (although I will just cheekily point out that a number of people have already done just that: here,  for example, and also here).

However, as the mother of two little girls who enjoy a range of modern entertainment and digital media, I must take this fella to task for his tendency to make anxious parents feel like utter shit for allowing their offspring within two foot of a remote control. And I’d like, please, some reassurance that my daughters’ fairly moderate media habits are not going to turn them into overweight zombies with attention deficits, psychological difficulties, and Wii tennis elbow.

Look, of COURSE children need some limits to be applied to the amount of time they spend in front of screens. If there are kids out there who really do spend six hours or more of their day flicking from their PlayStation to their smartphone with just small breaks in between in which to feed their Moshi Monsters, then that’s a bit of a worry and their parents really do need a bit of a nudge about it.

But the rest of us – the people who don’t need the Ministry of the Bleedin’ Obvious to inform us that if kids are glued to the tellybox or the X-box for many, many hours at a time, it’s not going to be that good for them because they won’t have a chance to do all that other stuff necessary for good health and development like imbibing fresh air, moving around in an active fashion, engaging in human interaction with their peers and parents, flicking through the pages of an actual book or picking up the old Crayolas and creating a non-virtual work of art – could really do without the guilt trip on this.

We have to be realistic. Modern media are absolutely here to stay – they loom large in all our lives, not just our kids’. And I don’t think Sigman’s suggested guidelines are very helpful: no screens at all for the under-threes (the man wants to ENTIRELY deny toddlers a daily Peppa Pig fix? FFS!), half an hour a day for those aged three to seven; an hour for the 7-12s; an hour and a half if you’re 12-15, and two hours tops once you reach the age of consent.

I would struggle to impose these kind of screen limits on my kids, to be honest. An earlier recommended guideline (I forget who issued it) of two hours a day seems reasonable and it’s what we try to stick with round here. (Although – to be frank – it goes out the window at weekends, when up to four hours in total of telly +computer + console use has certainly been known.) I don’t fret about it because in a typical week, they also fit in lots of other things that don’t involve a screen: five days at school and the walk there and back, for starters, a swim and bike ride, meals taken at the dining room table, a fair bit of conversing with other humans, some reading of books and some seeing of friends. It’s all about balance, innit?

And hey, just for a change, instead of wringing our hands about the media habits of modern kids, how about celebrating them, instead?

How about a little woop for the fact that when my daughters get in from school, dump their bags, and reach for the remote, it’s because the schedules are packed full of marvellous (though admittedly oft-repeated) programmes like Horrible Histories and 12 Again, and Wolfblood? (And ok – I’ve never watched Wolfblood myself I’ve got to admit, but I’m reliably informed that it is AWESOME…)

Horrible Histories: Possibly the best thing on telly. Ever.
PIC CREDIT: BBC

How about a positive nod to the fact that my eight-year-old can already find her way round a mouse, a keyboard, and a website (useful skills for the future, in a world where most jobs require you to use a computer, no?) And that – perhaps less usefully for the future, but impressively, nevertheless – she can whop the arse off most of her mates on a Mario Kart circuit?

Is it not truly cool that my 11-year-old has a whole world of information at her fingertips to aid her in completing her homework? And fantastic that, thanks to You Tube, both girls have been able to sit down and enjoy every episode of the otherwise defunct Paddington Bear ever made? How about the sheer joy of quality family time spent sitting down to watch a good movie together – or even a bit of back to back Saturday night drivel? Something to give three cheers for, surely?

I completely agree that we need to keep a close eye on our kids in this terrifying and potentially toxic modern world we live in. Some screen limits should be applied – I have no argument with that.

But please Sigman, will you just chillaxe a bit on the whole issue? Don’t make parents feel bad for letting their kids do something that, often, is actually good for them.

MAIN IMAGE: Ben Smith